While Whistler weighs the pros and cons of its new life with Vail Resorts, a new mountain resort is moving ahead in B.C.
And if realized, it will boast the largest vertical drop in North America, at 2,050 metres.
On Aug. 17, the provincial government announced its approval of a master plan for the Valemount Glacier Destination Resort, located in the Cariboo Mountans just west of the Village of Valemount. The proposed resort is worth $175 million.
Oberti Resort Design and the Pheidias Group are spearheading the project.
In its master plan the proponent envisions year-round glacier skiing, gondola access for alpine sightseeing and a 1,997-bed unit base area development.
"From a design point of view, it's been really designed with sightseeing as an equal consideration to skiing, so the lifts are designed almost like a journey through the mountains," said proponent Tommaso Oberti.
"The ultimate elevation that will be reached is 3,050 metres, although there's an optional lift that goes to 3,200 metres. There's a huge glacier at that elevation, there's a few smaller glaciers as you move your way down, and the viewpoints are absolutely out of this world."
A lift system designed for both sightseers and skiers will take visitors to the summits of Mount Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Twilight Glacier, Glacier Ridge and Mount Arthur Meighen.
The next step for the project is a Master Development Agreement — which details how the resort will be constructed and operated — followed by construction permits. The proponents are hoping to start construction in the early summer of 2017.
Oberti Resort Design and the Pheidias Group were also behind the beleaguered Jumbo Glacier Resort in southeastern B.C., which has met with strong local opposition and significant delays.
But Valemount is already leagues ahead of Jumbo, at least in the public support department.
The proponents held 10 public open houses — six more than the mandated four — and were amazed at the support shown for the project.
"These public meetings, invariably you have somebody who's got an axe to grind or some issue. We never had that. We're used to having tomatoes thrown at us," Oberti said with a laugh.
"We wanted from the beginning to be as open and accommodating as possible, and as part of the planning process, we decided early on because of the public support to keep it as real as possible to the region, in terms of accommodating what people do there, and really trying to integrate peoples' interests."
The project will aim to accommodate heli-ski operations, dog-sledders and snowmobilers, for example, Oberti said.
Part of the reason for the overwhelming support could be the decline of other local industries, he said.
"The community has had some tough times in that their mill closed down about 10 years ago, a lot of the locals work in forestry and that's a declining industry, some of the locals work in the Alberta oil fields," he said.
"So it's a town that basically has decided that for its future sustainability, it needs to embrace the tourism industry, and even now with nothing there they get 150,000 overnight visitors, mostly due to snowmobiling and the fact that it's a convenient stop between Edmonton and Vancouver."
Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour Shirley Bond is also the MLA for the region.
"In the nearly 16 years that I've been representing this area, I have learned how important the tourism sector is and how hard everyone has worked to diversify the economy," Bond said in a release.
"This project will create a world-class destination resort, create jobs and grow the economy. A lot of hard work has brought us to the approval reached today and I am committed to continuing the hard work necessary to ensure a successful outcome of the next steps in the process. This project will provide major benefits to the Robson Valley Region and the province."
The Simpcw First Nation — on whose territory the project is located — is also supportive.
"We look forward to participation in the continued planning and development of this important economic development project in the northern part of our territory," Chief Nathan Matthew said in a release.
For more on the project head to www.valemountglaciers.com.
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