Opinion » Alta States

Redemption – Schmunk brings Rocky Mountain magic to the West Coast



"Failure is only postponed success as long as courage 'coaches' ambition. The habit of persistence is the habit of victory."

– American journalist and writer Herbert Kaufman

In a recent article, America's influential Conde Nast Traveller ranked Tofino's Long Beach Lodge as one of the top three resort hotels in Canada. Behind the coastal upstart were all of Whistler's big hitters — the Four Seasons, the Fairmont, and the Westin. Impressive results for such a young property, no? And although he's not the type to gloat, I know the Lodge's general manager, Perry Schmunk, derives great pleasure from that ranking.

Remember Schmunk? The surprising flatlander who went from non-skier to CSIA examiner in four years? The esteemed director of the Blackcomb Ski School who was handed his walking papers by WB management in May of 2000 due to a "a change in leadership style"? The desperate dad who did everything he could to stay in Whistler in order to be close to his daughter from a former marriage — including a stint driving cab?

It's been a long and hard journey from the prairies to the coast, admits Perry. But he wouldn't change his final destination for anything in the world. Now the mayor of the 1,800 residents of Tofino, the born-again surfer says he feels more fulfilled today with his new family and new job than he ever has in his life. Nice.

Sometimes bad things happen for a reason. Hmm. Not quite right. Let me put it another way — sometimes individuals are strong enough to transform devastating setbacks into learning experiences. Hizzoner is one of those gents.

Picture it. Barred from teaching skiing in the place he loved, the then 35-year old faced a bleak future. He tried everything. Hired a lawyer. Together they perused the Park Act to see if there was any way to challenge WB's monopolistic practices. He went so far as to plead his case to both provincial and federal members of parliament. But he got nowhere fast; Intrawest's influence in those days, he says, was just too strong. He even explored the possibility of bucking the system and starting an independent school in Whistler. "You know," he adds, "if I'd been younger, single, I would have done it." He sighs. "But I had a growing family to look after and the rewards didn't justify the risks."

In desperation, he took a step back and returned to Banff to work for the Ski School that had first set him on his course. And he quickly made his mark. "There'd been a recent change in management there," he explains, "and they were open to new ideas." Soon he was running the marketing program targeting destination tourists for all three Banff Ski Areas. "I enjoyed the stay," he says. "But I'd learned my lesson in Whistler. I didn't want to get stuck in a small employment pool ever again. What if there was another management change and my supporters backed out? What then? I didn't trust the ski industry anymore — particularly with the consolidation trends happening at the time." Another long sigh. A smile. "You see, I was tired of playing hockey in a league with only two or three teams..."