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Moving mountains o' real estate

Editor Bob Barnett hits the road to check out B.C.'s developing mountain resorts.

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But 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.”

Like 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.”

From 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.

The 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.

No one wants these resorts to become another Whistler, but the proponents like the way Whistler property values have appreciated.

And 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.

Which raises a question: What is the market for mountain resort real estate in B.C.?

The 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 beneficiaries.

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