WB weighs in on proposed Squamish ski resort 

Ski industry expert looks at physical space in questioning viability of ski area

click to enlarge Doug Forseth
  • Doug Forseth

Whistler-Blackcomb’s senior vice president of operations believes building a ski resort just north of Squamish could be a challenge.

“This is not an easy discussion to have because it looks like it’s self serving,” admitted Doug Forseth this week. “But I would just tell anyone to go look at the facts of the physical space.

“That’s what I know best and that’s what I would comment on.”

The facts are the location of the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish resort is close to the ocean, at a lower elevation than Whistler-Blackcomb, with south to southwest facing slopes and those are not good combinations, he said.

“Certainly that location is going to be a challenge, I believe, to operate as a ski area,” Forseth added. “The close proximity to the coast, the elevation, the terrain itself is not suitable for a large resort.

“I don’t think it has as big a capacity as they’re suggesting unless they build a ski area that’s very crowded. And I think the snow in the location is problematic. I mean, we’ve got our own challenges here and we’ve got a little better situation than they do.”

The president of Garibaldi at Squamish, however, is convinced a ski resort can work in that location. Mike Esler said if they weren’t confident of the snow in that area, there wouldn’t be developers trying to build a ski resort there for the past 20 years.

“In our view there’s certainly an abundance of snow,” he added.

“The snow conditions are comparable to Whistler.”

Forseth’s comments come on the heels of official opposition from the Resort Municipality of Whistler last week in a letter to the Environmental Assessment Office at the close of the public comment period for the Garibaldi at Squamish resort.

Developers are hoping to build 122 runs with 24 lifts in the Brohm Ridge area north of Squamish. In addition to the ski area, the development also includes two golf courses and 5,700 units of housing. The proposal has generated dozens of letters of concern during the first public comment period.

Whistler-Blackcomb did not submit a comment during that process.

But Forseth said he agrees with the concerns expressed by the resort municipality.

“If you want to double tourism, that’s the Premier’s mandate and we’ve certainly heard that for several years now, then I think you want to go about it wisely to make sure you’re not building something which appears to be adding more to the inventory but which might be cutting the legs out of something that’s a cornerstone of certainly the winter tourism business and a large part now the summer tourism business,” he said.

“The arguments that the muni has put forward are fair comments and should be looked at very closely. There are a lot of businesses here that have a lot on the line.”

But as a ski operator the number one question to ask said Forseth is: is the location viable?

He questions how the company proposes to bring 15,000 skiers to a skiable area of 2,150 acres. Whistler-Blackcomb, by comparison, has more than 8,000 acres and a built capacity of skiers just shy of 30,000.

Esler said the Ministry of Tourism, Sports and the Arts will assess the numbers and the resort will be designed to meet resort guidelines.

He also pointed to the fact that Garibaldi at Squamish plans to draw 15,000 skiers a day with 5,700 units of housing.

Whistler, on the other hand, can carry 30,000 with a much higher built housing and accommodation inventory — a much higher ratio of skier visits to built capacity.

The resort, said Esler, will meet the demands of the growing ski industry in British Columbia.

And while it may not have all Whistler has to offer, it may offer things Whistler doesn’t have, such as the view corridors.

“Perhaps we’re not as good in some respects, perhaps in other respects we’re better,” said Esler.

Forseth sees Garibaldi at Squamish as comparable to one of the three mountains in Vancouver and wonders if it could attract destination skiers.

“I would question it from the standpoint: is it adding anything to the corridor?” said Forseth. “It’s not that we can’t add more attraction to this province in skiing because we’ve got some great possibilities where you could build resorts and it would be additive and something new and exciting. To do something that’s going to grow tourism in this province you probably really need to build something that’s going to attract people from outside the province. As a destination resort I’m not seeing a huge attraction for Garibaldi at Squamish.”

The project is still moving through the Environmental Assessment Office process. It is expected there will be another opportunity for input from the public.

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