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Big White dreams



Backed by Australian family, Okanagan ski areas ready to take on the world

"My intention is to make the Okanagan as famous as Colorado was for skiing. I think it’s better snow and the access to the area is better." — Peter Schumann.

By Robyn Cubie

Whistler-Blackcomb is not about to be knocked off it perch as the number one ski resort in Canada or even North America, yet smaller resorts in the province are starting to spread their wings. And investors are listening.

Last month the Schumann family, who own Big White Ski Resort in the southern Monashees near Kelowna, finalized their purchase of the majority assets of neighbouring Silver Star Mountain Resort. This was followed by the announcement of a $75 million upgrade planned for Silver Star this coming summer – making it the largest single season expansion ever undertaken at a ski resort in the B.C. Interior. The bulk of that investment will be coming from a developer, Concert Properties, which has agreed in principle to construct $50 million worth of residential real estate totaling 220 units.

Other upgrades include a new Comet six passenger express lift and a new quad express, as well as 600 acres of additional ski area to the existing 2,725 acres, and a terrain park. And all in time for the 2002/2003 ski season.

Jeff Putnam, Silver Star manager marketing & resort services, says property values there are already showing upward movement.

"Local real estate values are up 20 per cent since the Schumann family bought the resort last year and the phones have been ringing off the hook since the latest announcement," he says. "People want to invest and prices will slowly just continue to go up."

If Putnam’s prediction comes true, Silver Star will be yet another success story in the Schumann clan portfolio. The family appear to have the Midas touch of turning struggling ski resorts into major resorts, whether in their homeland of Australia or in their adopted home, Canada.

Peter Schumann says his father, Desmond, purchased Mount Hotham resort near Melbourne in the early 1970s, transforming it into one of Australia’s premier ski destinations.

"My father went up skiing for a weekend and didn’t like the way things were running. They only had one rope tow, and one building. So he brought the shares and set about fixing things up," he explains. "I went there when I was 17 and it wasn’t much of a mountain then but it certainly is now."

The Schumann’s sold their Mount Hotham lift operations six years ago for $22 million (Australian). This freed them up to concentrate on Big White, which Desmond Schumann brought in a receivership sale in 1985 for $4.5 million Cdn.

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