Familiar face named to top WSL job 

Roger Soane, chair of Tourism Whistler's board, takes on CEO role at whistler sport legacies

click to enlarge Roger Soane
  • Roger Soane

Well-known hotelier Roger Soane is quite aware of the challenges awaiting him next month when he becomes the new president and CEO of the fledging Whistler Sport Legacies.

"How do you make that (organization) more successful, more sustainable, and less reliant on government money?" he queries. "How do you take those wonderful venues and make them more approachable for the local community? And, how do you balance that with being a training facility and being a tourist attraction as well?

"How do you do all those things?"

That is the multi-million dollar question for Soane to answer as he takes the helm of the organization responsible for Whistler's Olympic legacy venues, namely The Whistler Sliding Centre, Whistler Olympic Park (the Nordic centre), and the Athletes Centre, which includes a gym and a lodge.

WSL announced Soane's appointment this week, roughly one month after predecessor Keith Bennett retired, with board chair Jim Godfrey saying he was pleased with the new hire.

"Roger's depth of experience will help lead Whistler Sport Legacies to achieve our Sport Vision of becoming one of the leading sport centres in Canada," said Godfrey.

Realizing that vision, however, comes at a cost — $7.5 million annually, according to WSL's first annual report, released in July.

To pay the bills WSL gets money from a trust fund set up before the Games, and it brings in revenue with tourist programs, cross-country ski passes, room nights at the lodge, among other things. But it's not enough to balance the books.

Since the 2010 Games, WSL has also relied heavily on provincial government funding to the tune of almost $9 million until 2015. There is no guarantee of future stopgap funding.

When asked what ideas he has to balance the books, Soane said it's hard to pinpoint areas without actually being in the job yet. The organization, he added, has done a good job so far; he questions how to take it to the next level.

"I suppose it's looking at each individual facility and ensuring that they are being maximized as far as revenue opportunities without jeopardizing them as a training facility and I think that's where the balance comes in: making sure that you have a facility that can be used 18 hours of the day, is it being used to its full potential and what type of investment do you need to make to increase that revenue flow?"

These types of questions are the same ones Soane has asked over the years as head of various hotels, most recently as the general manager of the Nita Lake Lodge and before that, as general manager of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler for three years.

He's been in the hotel business since he was 16 years old, managing properties throughout the world from Europe to Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and North America.

And yet, from when he was a young boy growing up in London he always dreamed of working in the context of sport.

"It was an opportunity," he said of the job opening at WSL. "And I thought 'that's a job that I could get excited about.'"

Soane ends his tenure at the Nita Lake Lodge on Feb. 15 and begins at WSL on Feb. 18.

He will remain in place as chair of the board of Tourism Whistler.


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