Amazing how some people always manage to be at the right place at the right time. And then somehow manage to do the right thing too…
When we last caught up with globetrotting ski-operations guy Roger McCarthy, the former Whistler pro patroller was commuting between Geneva, Moscow and Sochi while engaged in one of the most exciting resort development projects in the world.
I hadn’t heard Roger this excited in a while. It was evident the project meant a lot to him — I could hear in his voice how invigorated he felt to be traipsing through the Caucasus bush on this wild new ski-hill quest. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” he’d explained in that unique Kiwi-cum-American-cum-Quebecois drawl of his. “The Russians are offering me the chance to get involved in building a ski resort from the ground up. And on a big, gnarly mountain at that! That hasn’t happened for years…”
Roger’s smile was as big as the proverbial kid’s in a candy shop that day. “For me, it’s the appeal of bringing a vision to life. Paul Mathews (of Whistler-based Ecosign) is responsible for the master plan, and he and I have a ton of experience working together.” He’d paused then. His laughter had filled the room. “Which means I won’t have to fight with anybody to get the mountain layout right…”
That was a year and a half ago. The project, although massive by any standard, was still relatively low on the global business radar. That all changed when Vladimir Putin’s $14 billion bid to buy the 2014 Games suddenly brought the world spotlight directly on Sochi and Roger’s Rosa Khutor project. Forget paying your dues. Forget jumping through the hoops. This was a ‘pass go directly, collect your $200 now and don’t smirk while you count your winnings’ move. But you can’t blame the IOC. Here was a huge new market to exploit — a winter-savvy 150 million-strong populace with a fresh pool of disposable income. Russia and the Olympics: it was a match made in marketing heaven.
That’s about the time, I figure, when things started to change for McCarthy; that’s when the big playeas started to meddle in Roger’s new playground…
“Never underestimate what the Russians can accomplish,” he’d told me back in June of ’07. “Never underrate what they can do.” And then he’d stopped speaking, before resuming in a totally different tone. “It’s hard for people in Canada to understand. But leaders like Putin are not at all like western leaders. This guy is more like an emperor. So when he decides that mountain sports are cool and photos and film clips of him on the ski slopes start showing up all over the country, you know the rest of the population is going to follow… It’s totally aspirational.”