These are heady times for the winter recreation industry in B.C. Whistler-Blackcomb has thrown off the pessimism that came after two sub-par snow years, and the excitement of the Olympics is building steadily. Condo projects at Big White, Silver Star and Sun Peaks sell out hours after sales doors open, and relatively recent ownership changes have breathed new life into Fernie, Kimberley and Red Mountain. Still, long-time observers were shocked by the announcement that dormant plans for Mount Mackenzie, a tiny local hill outside of Revelstoke, B.C., had not only been revived but that a newer, better, more ambitious master plan had been presented and approved by the B.C. provincial government.
Revelstoke is located in the Selkirk Mountains, which many people confuse for the Rockies but which are, in fact, part of a huge cordillera of peaks known as the Columbia Mountains that also take in the Monashees, Purcells and Cariboo ranges. B.C.’s Coast Range peters out to the east as the landscape morphs into the gentle rain shadow of the Okanagan and Shuswap Highlands. East of Sicamous, near the ominously named Three Valley Gap, forest enshrouded peaks enclose the Eagle River.
Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot wrote about this landscape in The Canadian Railroad Trilogy, “where the green dark forest is too silent to be real.” Crossing the historic Columbia River—arguably North America’s most important watershed—the front line of the Selkirks appear. Even more surprising is the fact that in the 400 km you’ve driven from the coast, you’ve barely gained any altitude at all.
If the mountain ranges of B.C. had a pro-wrestling- style Texas Death Match, chances are the Finals would have the Coast Range and the Selkirk Mountains grappling in a suspended cage, attempting to wrestle each other to the mat. The Coast Range is known for its enormous glaciers, wild weather and huge vertical. Ditto for the Selkirks. But, like the Alps (or Colorado, for that matter), the quality of the skiing experience is determined not so much by elevation, but by vertical drop. In Revy, you’re still an hour’s drive from the top of Rogers Pass and the peaks are literally neck-craning. Up each and every side drainage lies a glacier-draped mountainside. World-renowned backcountry lodges and cat- and heli-ops have carved up the terrain for more than three decades.
Revelstoke started receiving attention, including that from national and international ski journalists, shortly after Mount Mackenzie, the local ski area in Revelstoke, was purchased by a consortium of largely Ontariobased investors. The original group of 24 partners has now been whittled down to just four. Three of the developers and planners behind the new Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) are avid skiers. Don Simpson is a Colorado-based developer with a love of the B.C. backcountry. Then there’s Robert Powadiuk, a born storyteller and a guy who’s about to see his lifelong dream come true at age 70. And, ? nally, Paul “Bones” Skelton is a mountain recreation and operations man complete with a broad Aussie accent and several tattoos on his burly, rugby-player physique. Having lived and skied in Whistler for 20 years, Bones decamped to Revelstoke to become the man on the ground for the money guys.
Commuting between Whistler and Revy for the past four years, Bones has been putting together deals, procuring land, logging new runs and generally running the show during the installation of the new gondola built this summer that will access almost 1,000 vertical metres of skiing. Another lift ready for this winter—a high-speed quad—will add an extra 600 vertical metres. When the next wave of lifts is built in 2008-09, a magical 1,830 metres—that’s 6,000 vertical feet, a number that the marketing department understandably loves—will be reached. Not since Kicking Horse and before that Blackcomb Mountain were built has such an ambitious plan in North America become a reality.
To help ?nance all this, the RMR group has hatched a smart plan—sell a piece of the Canadian powder dream to monied heli-ski clients from all around the world who have patronized out?ts like Selkirk-Tangiers for the past four decades, with the opportunity to either lift-ski or heli-ski on the same day. (Plus early investors received a lifetime season’s pass.) Get a few bears to come out of hibernation a bit early and the wildernessmad German tourists will be all over an investment in the Canadian ski industry.
Many resort buildings (designed by renowned Vancouver architect Raymond Letkeman, whose First Nations-inspired West Coast architecture will ? t in beautifully with the site) will be Green-certi?ed, with wetlands protected and houses constructed in harmony with the rain-forest-like vegetation. Green is big in Europe, and resort developers are planning to knock this one outta the park.
By 2008-09, RMR will have the longest vertical drop in North America. From the painstakingly created topo maps and models, it’s pretty clear that there will be many memorable ways down the front of the mountain, for those wishing to do an epic descent through two or more bio-climatic zones. Think of it—you start in blower pow for the top 500 metres, have your skis switch to carving boards as you hit the groomers halfway down, then morph into a snowboard as you slide through slush for the ? nal few hundred metres.
Though the sales and marketing team has trotted out “four-season destination resort” and other brochure-speak to promote the area, they can keep the summer business— it’s the time from mid-November to mid- March where RMR will offer the core skier and snowboarder—the guy who can’t wait to grab the ? rst issue of Ski Canada when it comes in the mail around Labour Day—the best 500- 1,000 vertical metres of powder skiing in North America, not to mention the option— depending on the freezing level—of another 1,000 vertical metres right to the valley ? oor.
Smartly, there will be plenty of terrain to go around for skiers and riders of all levels—even the beginners are well serviced. Rather than being shunted to the bottom like many resorts (where they are overrun by skiers and boarders trying to get fed or access a lift)—novices will have a high-altitude private playground to ski and ride, with a commanding view across to Mount Begbie and the Monashees. No matter what the weather, they’ll be able to go inside a four-star mid-mountain lodge near the gondola terminal or ride back down. The RMR guys are committed to doing beginner terrain properly, all the while offering a mind-blowing scenic experience.
For the hardcore skier, it gets even better. RMR purchased CAT Powder Skiing (the local cat-ski operation and former owner of the top part of Mount Mac) as well as Selkirk Tangiers Helicopter Skiing—owned by the legendary Swiss guide Peter Schlunnegger— which has one of the largest heli-skiing tenures in the world.
On any day, you could go heli-skiing, snowcat skiing or slap on the climbing skins and rip epic big-mountain laps in the bowls outside of the area boundary, just like Revy resident and ski mountaineer extraordinaire Greg Hill, pro? led in the Winter 2006 issue of Ski Canada. It’s a huge freakin’ backcountry that would be like giving the Musical Bumps, Burnt Stew Basin, the Horstman Glacier and Whistler Bowl back to the ski/hiking bums.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort is going to offer the kind of muscular skiing and riding experience that will send the poorly conditioned to the hot tub by noon, while putting skiers at smaller B.C. Interior resorts into shock and awe with its big-mountain terrain. Especially in the early days, while infrastructure is still being built and skierdays measure in the tens of thousands, it will treat early risers to ? rst tracks from ? rst gondola to last ride. Time to splurge for some TurboFan goggles, bring your fattest powder boards, rock a one-piece heli-guide Gore-Tex suit and you’ll be good to go. This just could be the resort we’ve all been waiting for.
REVELSTOKE FACTS & STATS
Of?cial mountain name: Mount Mackenzie
Mountain range: Selkirk Range, Columbia Mountains
Base elevation: 500 metres
Summit elevation: 2,460 metres
Vertical drop (this winter): 1,431 metres
Vertical drop (2008-09): 1,829 metres
Average annual snowfall mid-mountain: 12 metres
New resort name: Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Development company: Simpson Property Group Canada is a privately held real estate company, delivering a comprehensive range of real estate services focusing on multi-family properties in Canada. The company is currently working on major projects in Kelowna and Revelstoke, and is led by Chairman Don Simpson.
Capital investment: More than $1 billion in total.
Master plan: More than 5,000 homes, including 2,000 hotel suites, 1,500 condo units, 850 townhomes and 550 single family lots. More than 500,000 square feet of commercial/retail space is also proposed. An 18-hole signature golf course, summer sightseeing gondola, extensive hiking and mountain biking trails, and a village heli-centre are all part of the proposed village master plan.
Lower village elevation: 500 metres
Upper village elevation: 800 metres
Heli-skiing operation: Selkirk Tangiers Helicopter Skiing
Cat-skiing operation: CAT Powder
Anticipated number of named runs at build-out: 115
Anticipated number of lifts at build-out: 21
Skiable terrain: 208,000 hectares (including Selkirk Tangiers tenure)
New lift installations for winter 2008: 8-person gondola, high-speed quad
Contact: 250/837-2188; 888/837-2188; Revelstoke Mountain Resort
A charming four-season resort community of just over 8,000 residents, Revelstoke, B.C., is located on the Columbia River between the Selkirk and Monashee mountains, surrounded by deep glacial lakes and pristine alpine terrain. It’s 190 km northeast of Kelowna, 631 km east of Vancouver and 413 km west of Calgary in southeastern B.C. Incorporated in 1899, Revelstoke is known for its Victorian-era heritage buildings, 12 metres or more of powder annually and small-town hospitality. Community events like farmers’ markets, winter festivals and live summer entertainment make Revelstoke a popular year-round destination, in addition to the phenomenal ski and snowmobiling terrain.