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GAS proposal not in Whistler's best interests

A few decades ago the idea of building a new ski resort would have been widely applauded with stakeholders gleefully celebrating how it would grow snow sports and bring tourism dollars to B.C. But it's a different reality now.

A few decades ago the idea of building a new ski resort would have been widely applauded with stakeholders gleefully celebrating how it would grow snow sports and bring tourism dollars to B.C.

But it's a different reality now. We have the impacts of climate change to consider, the highs and lows of global economy, the new booking patterns of the modern traveller and the sheer cost of taking part in snow sports.

On the other side of the coin you have a highly competitive industry, which spends millions of dollars every year re-investing in its products to make sure it can capture market share.

In today's landscape the idea of introducing a new mammoth winter sport resort is problematic.

But that is exactly what is on the table with the four-season Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) proposal.

This is a proposal, however, that is as much about development as it is about winter and summer sports. The plan is for nearly 22,000 bed units — that's between 3,500 to 5,000 homes of various types, including multi-family, condominiums and single-family homes. It's expected that 6,000 to 8,000 people will live there.

The proponents behind the plan are Northland Properties and the Aquilini Investment Group.

Northland took over ownership of Revelstoke Mountain Resort in 2008 and is the parent company of Sandman Hotels, Inns and Suites, Denny's and Moxie's restaurants, and Northland Asset Management Company.

The Aquilini Investment Group owns and manages a national real estate portfolio of commercial properties, office buildings, hotels, golf courses, cranberry and blueberry farms, as well as a commercial and residential construction company.

Plenty of depth there.

The growth of Revelstoke over the last several years is worth noting, but I would argue that its growing skier numbers are at the expense of other resorts such as Fernie and even Silverstar.

With this in mind it is hard to believe the claim that GAS will draw 800,000 skiers when developed without cannibalizing Whistler and Blackcomb, and of course directly impacting the success of Whistler.

Local MLA Jordan Sturdy is in a difficult position — Whistler is a known entity and produces over $1.1 million a day in tax revenue for all levels of government, while the GAS resort can only rely on projections.

Said Sturdy this week to Pique: "There's a number of competing interests here. I find it really difficult to weed out what is the truth. And how can you know? It's a prediction more than anything else."

A 2010 report by MMK Consulting Inc., (paid for by GAS for the District of Squamish) noted that the total direct expenditures on capital construction would be more than $3.3 billion over 20 years. But the impact would be even greater when indirect and induced effects are considered.

"The $3.3 billion in 20-year direct construction expenditures is estimated to generate $5.7 billion in total expenditures, resulting in $2.3 billion in additional GDP in B.C., 38,331 person-years of employment, and $462 million in government revenues: $164 million federal, $258 million provincial, and $40 million municipal," stated the report.

With LNG going south you can hardly blame the province for looking for new sources of money. And doubling tourism remains a stated goal following the establishment of the British Columbia Resort Strategy in 2004. Two of the five components of the strategy are to increase resort development and support resort communities.

But there is just no escaping the fact that skier and boarder numbers are not growing — they are flat. According to statistics compiled for the Canadian Ski Council and based on a seven-year baseline trend, skier-visits will remain around the 18-million mark for the foreseeable future (2004: 19.478 million; 2012: 18,528 million. In the U.S., according to Snowsports Industries America, we saw 10.9 million alpine participants in 2009, down to 9 in 2013). And while the low U.S. dollar might tempt travellers to Canada to recreate, and population rates are increasing, it is a huge leap to project that Whistler will continue to draw the same number of visitors while GAS attracts an entirely new 800,000 people.

This winter has also seen headlines captured by climate change and its immediate and long-term effects on ski resorts.

In its own documents, Gas states: "The climate is typically dominated by maritime air masses and is typically humid and cool. Winters are very wet although summers are often dry. Annual total precipitation and snowfall is predicted to be 1,600 mm and 1,200 mm, respectively (Section 3.2.4, Background Climate, GAS 1997).

"While no data exist directly for the Project Area (emphasis added), similar conditions and elevation at Whistler Mountain typically produces a snow pack ranging from 112 to 187 cm."

I would argue there is little similarity between the climate at Brohm Ridge and on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains — both of which are deeply vested in planning for climate change and the future.

Some other numbers in the reports from GAS are eye-catching. They tell us that that they expect 60,000 Nordic skiers annually (Whistler has 30,000 according to GAS), 1,650 heli-skiers (Whistler has 6,000), 60,000 ice skaters, 35,000 snow tubers, 12,000-25,000 on aerial adventure courses, 80,000-110,000 on alpine coasters, 10,000-15,000 on canopy tours, 1,500-3,000 on its ATVs and 25,000 to 45,000 mountain bikers on its lift-served and flow trails. There will also be festivals, races educational camps, kids camps and more.

There may be place for a development like this in B.C. — but it's not 50 or so kilometres from Whistler, which already has most of this in place.

To find out more go to the Supplemental Application, and then fill out the online form and make your voice heard.