Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures (CCWA) and Whistler’s long-time backcountry adventure haven, Journeyman Lodge, have new owners.
Bryce Phillips, owner of the Seattle-based but Whistler-founded outdoor sport and recreation store evo sealed the deal last week with CCWA founder Brad Sills and his shareholders. They have been in talks about purchasing the backcountry adventure business for a few years and the time was finally right to pull the trigger.
“It's just an extraordinary place. It's really so unique, its location, the terrain, so it's just a really unique opportunity to take the baton from Brad [Sills] and his team and carry it forward,” said Phillips.
Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures was first founded in 1979 by Sills to provide people with opportunities to explore the expansive terrain of the upper Callaghan Valley.
After 41 years in the business, the time was right for Sills to finally move on. But he wasn’t getting out for the sake of it. He wanted the new owners to be the right fit and to be able to continue what he and his shareholders had built and continue the traditions of CCWA. Cue Phillips and evo.
“It's time that I move over and allow new energy to come in and continue on in the vision of promoting self-propelled recreation and we feel that evo will be great stewards of the land and continue to push all forms of Nordic and ski touring recreation,” explained Sills of why evo was the perfect fit as new owners.
“They’re a young company and they fund a variety of different community initiatives including access for underprivileged kids to the mountain.
“They've demonstrated their commitment to stewardship and support of environment groups through funds, and grants and the fact that they love authentic adventure.”
Phillips first moved to Whistler in 1997 and spent seven years building friendships and “chasing winters.” And although he has since moved back to the U.S., he returns to Whistler often either visiting one of the five evo-operated businesses in the village (Whistler Village Sports, Excess Backcountry, Excess Ski+Sport, Mountain Riders and Sportstop) or to spend time with his family at their cabin on Alta Lake.
And it’s that same connection that he feels to the town that really drove his desire to expand his business in the area with the purchase of CCWA.
“I would definitely say connection to the community and love for the region is what it's all rooted in. I mean if you rewind 24 years when I first moved (to Whistler) I was drawn there because I wanted to ski, that was it,” said Phillips.
“But now, it's a new chapter in life to be there with family and be there in the outdoors. And that's where the whole business came from in the first place is the passion for the outdoors, but now to really build a place that can have an impact on the community and just be a celebration of our love for the outdoors, really the Journeyman Lodge is just an extension of that.”
Most of the current CCWA team will be staying on to continue operations of the organization, including Sills himself who will continue as the general manager for one more year while he shows Phillips and the new incoming GM Christian Begin the ropes.
"I am just looking forward to creating an amazing experience for people, something they will never forget,” said Begin. “I'm very excited and also very excited to work with an amazing team.
"I feel that it's an amazing opportunity for me and I know for evo to be part of something that has been created and has such a history with the place. I feel very honoured to be part of this new chapter of the Callaghan Country."
And while Phillips and Begin have some big goals for Callaghan Country in the future, don’t expect much to change in the next little while, as their main goal right now is just to keep operations going smoothly.
“[We have] no plans to change the names,” said Phillips. “We just see our brands fitting alongside each other and we are just honouring what Brad built and the history and legacy there coupled with this new chapter. We see the evo and Journeyman Lodge combination as a really nice balance.”
But while the branding will stay steady operations might get a shake up in the future as evo considers making the lodge a year-round operation.
“We're excited about going through the process of turning it into a year-round operation, but at this point right now it’s just a winter operation,” said Phillips. “We are taking our time, nothing is changing out of the gate.”
For Sills, who has put over four decades of hard work and passion into creating what Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures is today, this process has been an “emotional roller coaster,” but in the end, he said he would be happy to watch it change and grow under Phillips and Begin.
“I think that everybody just felt that they had given everything that they can to bring it to this level. We built it from scratch to what it is now,” said Sills.
“So seeing a younger crew come in really makes us happy that we are seeing a transition to younger ownership and people that have had the ability to generate the enthusiasm that's required to keep the organization running.”