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Ski area proposed for Kootenays will cater to backcountry skier

Expression of interest for Zincton Mountain Village submitted to province
Powder skiing. Photo: Getty Images

There's a prevailing mindset in the ski industry that says a resort needs to be within a two-hour drive from an international airport to be viable long-term. But the man behind a 4,500-hectare ski area proposed for the Selkirk Mountains wants to challenge that notion, hoping its "remoteness and pristineness" will attract guests looking for a more natural, rugged ski experience.

"You look at tourism around the world—of course, it's been destroyed by COVID, but prior to that, tourism around the world has been way too much, all the time. Remote and pristine, those go together, and people are looking for that," said David Harley, the proponent behind Zincton Mountain Village, an all-season resort that would be located along London and Whitewater ridges near New Denver, B.C.

Partially modelled after the Swiss ski village of Mürren, Zincton is envisioned as "an all-season, backcountry-oriented mountain destination catering to dedicated local, regional, and international guests seeking an immersive mountain experience with world-class accommodation and amenities," according to an Expression of Interest prepared by Brent Harley and Associates (no relation to David Harley), that was submitted to the province this month. If approved, Zincton will combine the "lift-service recreation experience offered at traditional mountain resorts with an extensive and accessible backcountry offering."


Harley said the development aligns with the recent trends in backcountry recreation. "If you look at the backcountry population now, it's predominantly hardcore. They're used to skiing without any avalanche mitigation, without any mapping, without any route suggestions or things like that," he said. "But if you look into the future—you've seen it at Whistler—the explosion in the backcountry population is going to create opportunities where people would love to backcountry ski with family, with friends in less of an isolated [area].

"It's a forward-looking project that speaks to what the backcountry population will become."

Signed on to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's 1% for the Planet initiative, which encourages companies to donate the equivalent of one per cent of their gross sales to environmental non-profits, Zincton is intended to have as minimal a footprint as possible, Harley explained. "We don't really want to rip up the tenure lands, so the idea is to basically leave it exactly the way it is, do some glading with the lifts, overlap the tenured lands—but mostly the lifts start and terminate on private lands," he said, adding that the ski area will be carbon-neutral from opening day thanks to the adoption of net-zero energy building standards as well as a deal with a local power producer to provide run-of-river electricity for the whole resort.

"We're very conscious of having a really light touch."

With the rise in so-called "ecovillages," intentional communities emphasizing more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable ways of life, coupled with fewer careers being tied to a specific location, Harley believes people will increasingly choose to live where they play.

"The separation of the need to have work and home close together, people want to live where they want to recreate and where they want to retire, and they can do that when they have portable income," he said. "So these little ecovillages ... if done properly at small scale, can have very minimal environmental impact. We're keen on that."

Targeting up to 140,000 annual ski visits at full build-out, Harley is aiming to cater to local skiers as much as the longer-haul guest. "We're trying to create a place that people want to call home, and when you call something home, it can't be overly transactional. It can't be too touristy," he said. "We think that magic number is ... roughly half residents and half longer-term guests, and then just 200 or 300 drive-up per day. That's how we're gearing our lift capacities and how we're designing the village."

Plans include a "Mountain Village" envisioned as "as intimate, pedestrian-scaled, and pedestrian-oriented base area, where all accommodation and skier services are ski to/ski from," according to the proposal. Cabins will form all private and public accommodation, and "no large hotels or condominium developments will be entertained."

With the master-planning process still underway, Harley is aiming for a December 2021 opening date, but added that with the effects of COVID-19, that could be extended to late 2022.

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