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Whistler to Sochi and back again

Roger McCarthy at museum speaker series Jan.18



The distance between Blackcomb and Sochi runs much further than mere kilometres or miles, as globetrotting ski-operations expert and newbie Whistler councillor Roger McCarthy can tell you from firsthand experience.

Brought in by the Russians in 2007 to oversee the creation of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, the hub around which the 2014 Winter Olympics will operate, McCarthy is well able to compare such a pioneering venture in the old worldly Caucasuses to the experienced world-class efficiency of Whistler's operations and it makes quite a story.

His 40-year-plus resort management career began with running the T-bar here in 1973 and ran through the full spectrum of Whistler jobs upward into management in the time-honoured tradition. After 20 years in Whistler, McCarthy went on to manage resorts for Intrawest and other companies and overseeing Mt. Tremblant, Breckenridge, and European resorts along the way.

He will draw from this vast experience as the first presenter in the Whistler Museum's 2012 Speaker Series on January 18.

Going to Sochi for 18 months was McCarthy's opportunity to take on the one challenge that had eluded him in his career.

"The only thing I hadn't done was build something from the ground up. By the time I went to Sochi (in 2007) it had been 26, 28 years since a resort had been built from the ground up in North America," he said.

Russia has, of course, extensive experience in winter sports like hockey and Nordic but it did not extend to alpine sports. When he arrived, the location for the Rosa Khutor resort had been selected, but "they hadn't started cutting trees yet."

"At the point I went there was no expertise within the country and everyone had to be brought in from outside. I could tell stories that would curl your hair," he said.

Even a short chat brings up talk of oligarchs and different sides vying for ownership of the land on which Sochi is set, along with interesting details about the project itself. His practical experience came in handy, as when he told Sochi organizers to immediately buy snowcats for the slopes in order to train drivers to groom according to conditions, something that hadn't been thought of by his new colleagues.

McCarthy returned to Whistler with his family in 2008 and launched his successful bid for a seat on the municipal council last fall.

When it comes to his career, his unique experience at Sochi is what garners the greatest interest, he said.

"There have been so many questions... The conversation usually starts with 'Aren't you the guy who was in Russia and goes to 'Will they be ready?' and that is one of the things I am going to answer."

McCarthy added that he did not believe there would be a venue change for the 2014 Games. "The Russians should not be underestimated, though I'd be surprised if there would be any Olympics to match Whistler."

McCarthy believes Sochi has the potential to be one of the best ski areas in the world.

"But the highlight of my career was not the places I've been or the jobs I've had, it's been the people."

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