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Alta states

Coming Home: Charlie Locke returns to his Rocky Mountain roots

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“What do you think?” he answers.

Another big smile. And in that half-hurried, word-chewing way he has: “You know, when I walk through the lodge and people come up to me and say, ‘We’re so glad you’re back Charlie. When you left, it felt like we’d been abandoned…’ that’s when I know I made the right move.”

Charlie’s office is a cramped little monk’s cell just around the corner from the resort’s main guest-relations desk. Nothing fancy here. It’s utilitarian to a fault; but practical too. For Locke can eavesdrop on just about everything that goes on out front.

Still, he makes for an unlikely boss. In his droopy jeans and old checked workshirt — with his tired, rheumy eyes and scraggly hair — Locke looks more like the lodge caretaker than the general manager. Beware of appearances though. For behind those mildly startled eyes is a finely tuned mind.

The name of his company, Locke, Stock & Barrel, says it all. Over the years he’s done a bit of everything: gas, real estate, ranching, investments. And he’s been highly successful with his ventures. That’s why it seems so unlikely that he would willingly re-immerse himself in such a shaky enterprise as the uphill transportation business.

He laughs at my implied question. “Yes, it cost me a lot of money to get back in the game,” he says. “And I would certainly get a better return if I invested that money elsewhere. But this is way bigger than dollars and cents.”

That sentiment is echoed by many of his longtime patrons. “Lake Louise is his passion,” says World Cup executive director Bruce Hamstead. “That’s why it’s so great to see Charlie back here. This is where he belongs.”

How significant is Locke’s return to Louise? Well, the closest local analogy I could come up with is a scenario in which Hugh Smythe somehow found the necessary shekels to buy Blackcomb Mountain back from its struggling hedge fund owners. Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea…

But I’m getting sidetracked.

Love him or hate him — and there are many in both camps — Charlie Locke is one of Canada’s seminal ski hill visionaries. What makes him particularly endearing is that he embodies that classic Victor Kiam ad about the guy who liked the razor so much he bought the company. I mean, this is a mountain-lover’s mountain-lover, a vert-obsessed adventurer who tackled some of the toughest climbing and skiing routes in the Northern Rockies during the 1960s and ’70s. This is a ski-addict who can still recall in detail the birthday in 1955 when he set his first ski tracks on Temple Mountain as an eight year old. “My parents weren’t skiers,” he recounts. “But my dad bought me a pair of skis at the Pay & Save. I think they cost $7.” And while his first experience was less than inspiring — “I didn’t know anything about wax, so the snow stuck to my skis immediately. I got so frustrated on the long ski out that I started to cry.” — there was something about the new sport that immediately seduced him.