Story and photosy by Bob Barnett
an inauspicious introduction to what is supposed to be another all-season
mountain resort in B.C. There is no one in sight at the base of Revelstoke’s
Mount MacKenzie in the middle of September, and little indication that anyone
is working on the $1 billion development. The end of the gravel road is marked
only by an old Mueller double chair, a weathered barn of a day lodge and a
nothing more to see.
buzz of a chainsaw breaks the silence long enough for someone to buck a log and
a few moments later a gregarious lumbering man in overalls wanders into view.
He is TJ, a lift mechanic — perhaps
lift mechanic, as there is currently only one lift at Mount MacKenzie.
lift, the Mueller double chair, was installed about 1990 he says, after it was
rescued from a Lower Mainland ski area. He unlocks the door to the building
that serves as the cafeteria, equipment rental centre, ticket sales office and
ski patrol quarters. Inside, a map of the development concept plan for the
future Revelstoke Mountain Resort shows 20 lifts servicing 6,500 feet of
vertical terrain and 110 runs. Single-family and condo developments straddle the
road leading up to the base, where the lift and the day lodge now stand.
shows us out and locks the door. Standing in the autumn sunshine surrounded by
the peaks of the Selkirk Mountains, we all agree it’s a beautiful area. And TJ
is optimistic about the future.
glad I got my house before the real estate boom hits,” he says.
there may be a boom in recreational real estate at Revelstoke. Heli-ski and
cat-ski operators have been based in the town for years, including CAT Powder
Skiing, which currently operates on Mount MacKenzie’s upper slopes. There is no
doubt the skiing and boarding can be great.
question is, when will the resort development happen. New runs have been cut in
the trees above the lift, providing new terrain for clients of CAT Powder
Skiing, and a road is being built to the top of the mountain. But the promise
of an all-season resort with 16,000 beds, announced nearly two years ago, seems
a long way off. Speculation about a boom in recreational real estate is a
excitement about resort development and real estate prices seems to be the norm
in British Columbia. The story at the top of page 1 in last Friday’s Vancouver
Sun was about a proposed development on the Sunshine Coast that is expected to
“…bring thousands of new residents and a Whistler-style resort to the area.”
Mount MacKenzie, an anticipated demand for recreational real estate is key to
the Sunshine Coast proposal, as the story states: “Vacation property prices in
Whistler are all the evidence (developer Steve) Dunton needs that Vancouverites
are desperate for getaways within easy driving distance.”
Tofino to the Sunshine Coast, and from the Okanangan to the East Kootenays,
resort development in B.C. has boomed in recent years. Recreational real estate
that includes seasonal activities such as golf, skiing/snowboarding, boating,
fishing, hiking, kayaking and lifestyle amenities such as nearby wineries and
beachfronts, is being developed at a phenomenal pace. You can’t open a magazine
or newspaper in Vancouver without tripping over ads for Predator Ridge, Strand
Lakeside Resort or Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa.
Mountain resorts are a subspecies of this group. Following the general consolidation of ownership of North American ski areas in the 1990s, there has been a rush to develop new mountain resort areas and expand existing ski areas in British Columbia. That momentum has been furthered by provincial government policies this decade that have encouraged resort development.
reference point for most of these B.C. resorts is, to some degree, Whistler or
some aspects of Whistler — in particular strata-titled condominiums, a
phenomenon that has allowed resort developers to sell properties before a
shovel goes in the ground and thus reduce their financial exposure.
one wants these resorts to become another Whistler, but the proponents like the
way Whistler property values have appreciated.
it’s a fact of life that real estate development and sales are necessary to
finance a resort. It’s been a long time since ski areas could make a go of it
by selling season passes and hot chocolate.
raises a question: What is the market for mountain resort real estate in B.C.?
obvious answer, besides British Columbians, is Albertans. With national and
provincial parks blanketing most of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, and thus
limiting real estate development, Albertans seeking a second home in the
mountains have turned to B.C. The East Kootenays, in particular, have been the
while a strong B.C. economy and booming real estate values have kept prices up,
the even stronger oil economy in the province next door has meant real estate
prices at B.C. mountain resorts are generally affordable to Albertans.
what are people buying into?
recent sampling — and only a sampling, not a comprehensive review — of some
B.C. mountain resorts found lots of Alberta licence plates and healthy real
estate markets. There is also some great skiing when the snow is good.
Each of the five mountain resorts visited is also building a village at the base of the ski area; this is where things start to differ from the Whistler model.
The proposed village area at Mount MacKenzie is only about 10 km from downtown Revelstoke. At Kicking Horse, the partially completed village is about 20 km from Golden. Panorama’s village, which is very close to buildout, is about 18 km from Invermere. At Kimberley, the resort development is almost a continuation of a suburb that extends up Gerry Sorensen Way from the town centre. And at Red Mountain Resort, the first buildings in the village master plan, the Slalom Creek condominiums, are up Highway 3B about 10 km from Rossland.
some people this proximity to “real” towns is a virtue. A community that
doesn’t live and breathe tourism and is separate from the resort experience is
just a few kilometres away.
may find these mountain resort villages lack a nucleus. They have a sports shop
or two, restaurants, a pub and places to buy souvenirs and gifts, but they
don’t have the types of core businesses that were mandated in the first parcels
developed in Whistler Village: a grocery store, liquor store, pharmacy and
not that one model is better than the other; they are different because of
their proximity to existing towns.
difference is their proximity to major markets. Calgary and Vancouver are the
closest major Canadian cities for B.C. resorts, with Seattle the nearest major
American market. Fernie, Kimberley, Panorama and Kicking Horse are less than
four hours from Calgary, which puts them in the range of weekend destinations
for Calgarians. Revelstoke, however, is 400 km from Calgary, over the Rogers
and Kicking Horse passes. Even though 3 million tourists pass Revelstoke on the
Trans Canada every summer, it can be a challenging drive in the winter.
driving to Revelstoke from Calgary would also have to pass the ski areas in
Banff National Park and Kicking Horse at Golden before getting to Mount
assumes that people will get to these mountain resorts by automobile. In fact,
most are drawing destination visitors from Europe and Australia who fly into
Calgary or Cranbrook. Revelstoke also has an airport, although in its present
configuration it is not large enough to handle commercial jets.
destination visitors aren’t the bread and butter for these resorts or any
others in B.C. Regional visits are, as Whistler has found out in recent years,
key to economic sustainability.
development starts with real estate sales. Resorts of the Canadian Rockies was
put together by Charlie Locke in the late 1990s to get into the resort
consolidation game. Locke, who is now out of the picture, brought Kimberley,
Fernie, Lake Louise and Nakiska together under the RCR banner and started
developing mountain resorts at Kimberley and Fernie.
North Star Mountain, like Rossland’s Red Mountain, started off as a family ski
hill operated by the local ski club and strongly supported by the mining
company, Cominco — which was the reason the towns existed in the first place.
As Kimberley’s Sullivan Mine began to reach the end of its life new fortunes
were being made in mountain resort real estate.
at Kimberley, condominiums cover the lower slope of North Star Mountain,
interspersed only by a couple of lifts and one of the three golf courses in
town. Sitting above the town of Kimberley in the Purcells and looking across at
the Rocky Mountains, the area is alive with outdoor recreation opportunities.
that is perhaps Kimberley Alpine Resort’s downfall: why buy a condo up on the
mountain when the rivers, lakes and many trails and additional golf courses are
down in the valley? And the rental revenue from those condos may not be what
was expected. Last winter Kimberley removed the covenant requiring condos to go
into a rental pool because owners said it was impeding sales.
the valley, past Invermere and along Toby Creek Road, Panorama is more compact
and isolated than the resort at Kimberley. The Panorama village has everything
you’d expect at an Intrawest resort: a nice mix of various types of
accommodation, a good golf course and everything well landscaped. Like
Kimberley, you would have to leave the Panorama village area for groceries and
most non-skiing activities, but there is a sense of a community at Panorama. It
may be because the valley is cozier or because there are more single-family
houses at Panorama and the owners flock to them on weekends.
at Kicking Horse the first two large condo-hotels in a planned village have
been built, along with another condominium property built by Whistler’s Rod
Nadeau. But the emphasis right now is on high-end single-family development.
Ballast Nedam Canada Ltd., the resort developer, is also the recommended
builder for the single-family houses.
Horse, being just off the Trans Canada Highway, gets tourist traffic
year-round. For that reason the developers built the Golden Eagle Express
Gondola to take people from the base of the mountain directly to the Eagle’s
Eye restaurant at the top, where fabulous food and views are proffered.
A golf course is planned at Kicking
Horse, but like much of the village it has yet to be developed. Summer
activities currently consist of downhill mountain biking on the mountain,
rafting in the rivers, golf in Golden and paragliding.
in the West Kootenays, Red Mountain Resort is finally getting off the ground.
There aren’t any new lifts yet, but the first condo development in what will
become the village is under construction.
was purchased two years ago by Red Mountain Ventures, a private investment
group led by San Diego’s Howard Katkov. A master development plan has been
agreed to with the town of Rossland. The plan includes building 1,400
accommodation units and 70,000 square feet of commercial space in the village.
It also includes rights to expand the ski area from its current 1,585 acres to
and Granite mountains have always been favourites of skiers and boarders, and
the town of Rossland is as funky and charming as they come. Whether that’s
enough to draw investors remains to be seen.
relationship to Red and its development is more advanced than Revelstoke’s with
Mount MacKenzie, but there are parallels. The City of Revelstoke desperately
wants the Revelstoke Mountain Resort to succeed, and as owner of some of the
land included in the development parcel the city has been an active participant
in various development plans over more than 20 years.
man behind the development of Mount MacKenzie is Toronto’s Hunter Milbourne,
who at one time was backing the Garibaldi at Squamish resort proposal.
Milbourne has an agreement in place with the City of Revelstoke and provincial
approval for resort development. Clearing for the village and a golf course at
Mount MacKenzie was to have begun this summer but is now scheduled to begin
it may be that given the amount of mountain resort development that has already
taken place across B.C., and other ski areas’ more favourable proximity to
markets, expectations of a recreational real estate boom eventually reaching
Mount MacKenzie are optimistic.