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Hockey entrepreneurs stickhandling into Whistler

Le Scandinave spa just the latest investment by former NHL players



Take a right turn off Mons Road and you find yourself traversing a gravel road into a Nordic oasis.

The road, still clearly a work-in-progress, gives no hint of the little Arcadia that lies at its end. You park your car and then travel along an illuminated forest path before arriving at Le Scandinave, a "spa in the heart of nature."

There you can enjoy a relaxing experience in three stages. First you warm the body in a Finnish sauna, eucalyptus steam bath or hot bath. Then you rinse in a shower, outdoor waterfall or cool bath. The final stage sees you recharge your cardiovascular system in a solarium, hammock or by an outdoor fireplace.

This isn't the work of a Finnish developer who's airlifted the idea of a Nordic spa over the Atlantic. It's the child of two hockey players-turned-investors who are among many now looking to Whistler to turn hefty salaries into business opportunities.

Former NHL players Vincent Damphousse and Eric Desjardins are just two of the investors who've stickhandled Le Scandinave into reality. They're partners in Scandinave Spa Management, formerly known as Gestion Riviere du Diable, which has opened three other properties, in Mont Tremblant, Blue Mountain and Old Montreal.

The Whistler location is slated to open Feb. 6, just before the Olympics, and over 1,000 private security personnel are expected to be among its first clients.

Damphousse and Desjardins were in Whistler last week to oversee the fruit of their investment.

"I think (Whistler's) a good fit," Damphousse says, sitting in an office as tradesmen move furiously to finish their work outside. "The town here is already built up, which is great, there's already people here. We know it's going to be busy all year round and that's what we look for."

He was a star player in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks. Drafted sixth overall in 1986, he was MVP of the 1991 All Star Game and helped the Habs to a Stanley Cup alongside Desjardins in 1993.

Damphousse retired after the 2004-05 lockout, amassing 1,205 points over 18 seasons. Toward the end of his career there was even a slim chance of him playing for the Vancouver Canucks but the deal never went through.

It was in 1998, his last year as a Canadien, that he was approached by Pierre Brisson and Benoit Berthiaume, two entrepreneurs who were developing a Nordic-style spa at Mont Tremblant. Damphousse, by that time wondering what he would do with himself after hockey, thought the idea was great and invested enough to become a quarter-owner of Gestion Riviere du Diable, then the name of the company that was developing the spa.

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