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Brohm Ridge deemed an 'unacceptable site' decades ago

Ski industry concerns over GAS growing louder



A government report produced 40 years ago on ski-resort potential in the Sea to Sky corridor dismissed Brohm Ridge as having any promise as "a modern ski resort complex."

Yet, for the past four decades developers have been pushing to see a ski resort built there. Today, the proposal is called Garibaldi at Squamish and the June 22 deadline to comment to the provincial government is fast closing in as the proponents work towards its Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) certificate — a critical step forward in the provincial approval process.

But the chorus of opposition is growing, particularly from the western Canadian ski industry.

David Lynn, president and CEO of Canada West Ski Area Association (CWSAA), called it a high-stakes decision for the ski industry.

"It's not like handing out a restaurant license," he said. "The implications are far greater."

Four decades ago Sno-Engineering Inc. highlighted its concerns about Brohm Ridge in a report under the chapter "Unacceptable Sites." The damning 17-page section detailed the unusual terrain at Brohm Ridge, questioning the skiable routes to the base and the excessively steep grades and rocky faces. It also cast doubts about the climate and whether there was adequate snowfall to sustain skiing to the base — concerns that have only been exacerbated in the ensuing years by climate change.

"Brohm Ridge... should not be considered as having any potential as a modern ski resort complex," states the report produced for the province's Department of Municipal Affairs.

"Today's skiers are sophisticated and demand innovative resort planning and development. No longer will they accept poorly designed or unbalanced skiing facilities. They are paying a good price for a quality recreational experience, and they justifiably intend to receive it. Brohm Ridge does not have the capability of providing this type of quality as it pertains to skiing."

Dave Brownlie, president and CEO of Whistler Blackcomb, is blunt in his assessment of GAS, as outlined in a submission the company is preparing to government.

"From the ski industry's perspective, it's very clear that really it's about real estate and using the B.C. ski policy to access a land bank with the ski resort really being secondary," said Brownlie.

The B.C. All Seasons Resort Policy allows ski area developers to purchase Crown land at five per cent of market value in return for the ski infrastructure.

The policy is designed to create a "meaningful" resort, said Brownlie, one that is supposed to live on and create value for the province and the citizens of B.C. in the long term.

Excerpts from the 1974 report will form part of Whistler Blackcomb's submission to the provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) as it considers the supplemental application for Garibaldi at Squamish resort.

"It's the fragility of what we're talking about," added Brownlie, referring to Whistler's struggles in recent years dealing with the global financial crisis, the post-Olympic slump and even the weather.

"You just can't duplicate what we have in Whistler with what they're talking about. It is such a poorly designed (and) located ski product."

Lynn described GAS a new "low elevation" ski resort overlooking Howe Sound.

He is encouraging the province to consider how Garibaldi at Squamish will fare 50 years from now, as the world's temperatures continue to climb.

"If you accept the science of climate change, which the vast majority of climate scientists and scientific bodies support, you would be thinking twice about approving a new resort at those elevations," said Lynn. "We have to look forward."

The question to consider, he said, is this: what resort should you be approving today in order to have a strong ski industry 50 years from now?

Lynn represents roughly 300 members, including 138 ski areas. More than half the members of the CWSAA are losing money, coming off the heels of a disastrous winter for some ski resorts.

The implications of a new ski resort floundering will have rippling effects across the ski industry's precarious reputation.

Local governments have an extension on the June timeline. But that still may not be enough time to consider the full breadth of what's at stake, particularly for Squamish.

Mayor Patricia Heintzman said the district was denied an extension, but will be hiring a consultant to help consider the project.

"We will do our best. Obviously it's not ideal. You don't want to rush these decisions and to be frank, if we feel we don't have enough time, it's hard to support. I mean, that's just me personally," said Heintzman.

"If you don't have enough time or ability to do your due diligence, it's irresponsible to give the nod to something."

Brownlie also said the application states GAS proponents consulted with Whistler Blackcomb. That, he added, is not true.

"How many errors or how many untruths are in the information that's being put forward?" he asked. "It's a real challenge."

Whistler Blackcomb and the Resort Municipality of Whistler will be outlining their concerns, along with others, like Bobby Swain, president of Cypress Mountain, in their submissions.

Swain questioned the project's numbers — growing the ski business to attract 800,000 new skiers, enticing more than one million in the summer. Even with the population growing in the Lower Mainland, Swain is not convinced. He's seen it firsthand at Cypress.

"The growth has been 25 per cent (in the Lower Mainland) over the last 15 years and we aren't seeing any growth in skier visits," said Swain.

And a failed ski resort will hurt the industry overall.

"If the government reviews the financial plan and is satisfied that they think it's going to be a successful ski area, then that's up to them," said Swain. "But I'm going to point out how I don't feel the numbers add up, and that I don't think it's going to help the ski areas that are existing. It's not going to help us. It may take skier visits off of us in the short term... and in the longer term a failed ski area is not going to help us."

Attempts to reach Grouse Mountain and Seymour Mountain were not successful by deadline.

This is a high-stakes decision, added Lynn; this is not the ski industry closing in and being protectionist.

Any decision from the government should be made using objective criteria.

He urged government:"Don't let the process be politicized and don't take a laissez-faire attitude."