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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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And 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.

So what are people buying into?

A 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.

For 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.

Others 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 hardware store.

It’s not that one model is better than the other; they are different because of their proximity to existing towns.

Another 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.

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