January 23, 1998 Features & Images » Feature Story

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Garibaldi at Squamish: A matter of timing Twenty years after he first explored Brohm Ridge, Wolfgang Richter feels the time is right to develop it as a 21st century mountain resort By Bob Barnett Twenty years ago, in March of 1978, just after he had finished his stint as B.C.’s first film commissioner, Wolfgang Richter was sent by his uncle to explore Brohm Ridge. The uncle, who was well connected in Victoria, had been asked to find an investor to take over Adi Bauer’s failed attempt to build a ski resort on the flanks of Mount Garibaldi, north of Squamish. Being the skier in the family, Richter was dispatched to check out the area. Richter would like to remember it as a cloudless, brilliant day with breathtaking views of Howe Sound — but it wasn’t. Clouds rolled in and out, permitting only fleeting glimpses of the peak of Mount Garibaldi and hiding the sound completely. "But as I moved around on the mountain, every once in a while I’d see something new, another angle or view would be exposed — and I was just blown away by the experience and what the mountain offered," says Richter. Last month, after nearly two decades of reconnaissance, studying, planning and visioning, Richter’s Garibaldi Alpen Resorts submitted its application to develop Garibaldi at Squamish to the province’s Environmental Assessment process. The public review of the proposed year-round mountain resort will take until at least the spring, at which time the province can approve the application, ask for further information or reject the project outright. If the application is approved a detailed master plan for the resort must then be approved, as well as various permits and licences. Throughout the approval process there are open houses and public hearings. It’s an arduous process, one which Al Raine — who has proposed a mountain resort at Cayoosh, off the Duffey Lake Road — has complained allows everyone who opposes development plenty of opportunities to be heard, but leaves no one but the proponent to champion the cause. Raine’s experience has been that for each concern raised government bureaucrats call for another study, rather than make a decision. However, Richter is nothing if not an optimist. The proposed opening date for Garibaldi at Squamish is Christmas, 1999. "I’m in the approval business," he says, "hopefully in my lifetime." Richter sees merit in the Environmental Assessment process, in that the process is well defined. He’s also learned from Raine’s experience, and perhaps most importantly, he has someone to champion Garibaldi at Squamish in the District of Squamish — at least he hopes so. "Having the town of Squamish beside us is important and helpful," Richter says, pointing out that in 1994 the Squamish council of the day made a decision to encourage development of the tourism industry. A previous Squamish council also voted in favour of annexing the Garibaldi at Squamish lands, most of which are in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, although a small portion is within the District of Squamish borders. However, the present council said last June it has concerns about tax issues for the province and for the municipality and were non-committal regarding the proposed resort development. Two Squamish councillors, Meg Fellowes and Lyle Fenton, travelled to Whistler for last week’s open house to ask questions about issues that have yet to be resolved: aboriginal title to the land, treatment of waste water and how the project would fit into the growth management strategy for the corridor. Fellowes in particular feels Garibaldi at Squamish is "radically going to change (Squamish)." Richter, a nominee for the Squamish and District Chamber of Commerce’s businessman of the year, has become an advocate for the community of Squamish and feels his project will mesh with the town’s growth. "I believe in the vibrancy of downtown," Richter told the Squamish people who were in the majority at the Whistler open house. "But Squamish is going to grow. If you look at Squamish as a balloon and one more ounce of air goes into that balloon it’s going to burst — we’re another balloon. We’re going to provide some relief to growth." The resort proponents have also done their best to allay Squamish residents’ fears that "another Whistler" is going to be built. "It’s about more than skiing," says Richter, who first skied Whistler in 1966. "It’s about the mountains, and adventure and the outdoors. Squamish is a mecca for adventure-outdoor stuff. "The industry is changing and Squamish is changing. We need the community if we’re to survive, and that’s the way it should be." One sector of the community that likely won’t be supporting Richter is the snowmobilers who have been using the Brohm Ridge area, including Bauer’s abandoned buildings, for nearly 30 years. Several snowmobilers came to the Whistler open house. "My biggest concern is the way the development has broached our use of the mountain," one member of the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club said. "The club has been custodian of the area for 30 years and we haven’t been approached (about compensation or input)." Richter’s group has had discussions with the snowmobilers, however, any rights the club has to the area seem to be in the hands of the province. The club has a tenure agreement with the province to use the buildings, but that is now being reviewed and may be cancelled. In fact, the province’s apparent determination to see a ski resort at Brohm Ridge seems to mirror Richter’s. Despite a couple of earlier studies which suggested the area wasn’t suitable for a ski resort, the province called for proposals for the area in 1995. Three parties answered the call: the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club, Grand Adex Resorts and Richter’s Garibaldi Alpen Resorts. The snowmobile club was the first one eliminated from the process. The call came nine years after Richter had "re-discovered" the mountain. After his initial visit to the mountain in 1978, Richter spent three years hiking and exploring the area. The recession of the early ’80s sent him to Los Angeles in pursuit of opportunities in the film industry. He returned to B.C. for Expo 86, saw Whistler developing and became interested in Garibaldi again. "I thought: that mountain will one day be developed, and it will piss me off until the day I die if someone else does it," Richter says. He decided to make a full-time commitment to Garibaldi and in March of 1990 submitted a formal proposal to the province to develop the resort. After a 25-month review the proposal was rejected "because of the pending sale of the Whistler Village North lands," Richter says. In 1995 the province issued its proposal call and in August 1996 Garibaldi Alpen was selected to proceed with further studies. Last February Richter’s company signed an interim agreement with the province. "I feel bad that there’s a dislocation of the present users up there, but it’s not our decision," Richter says. "We’re making a proposal, at the province’s request. The snowmobile club made an application and the province turned them down." While the snowmobilers’ use of Garibaldi is an issue that has yet to be resolved, it may also be a blessing. For unlike Raine’s Cayoosh proposal or Oberto Oberti’s proposed Jumbo Creek ski area in the Kootenays, the Garibaldi area has a history of heavy recreational use, not just by snowmobilers but also by mountain bikers and hikers. Much of the area has also been logged over the years. There are native concerns as well, although Richter has established a dialogue with the Squamish Nation and is trying to offer them something in the resort development, such as a native healing centre. But Richter is convinced Garibaldi at Squamish is an idea whose time has come. Even though there hasn’t been a major new ski resort developed in North America since the early ’80s, he notes the consolidation that has taken place in resort ownership in recent years and says, "obviously there’s confidence in the industry from the banks. It’s also nice to be close to the University of Blackcomb and seeing what is done there." Richter has had discussions with Vail Resorts and George Gillett of Booth Creek Holdings to see if there "may be some advantages to a strategic partnership with someone in the business," but stresses: "We’re not for sale and we’re not looking for anyone." What he wants to create is a resort with "a strong sense of place." "I like to take Squamish people up their mountain and have them look down on their town," he says. After 20 years of studying the mountain, the town, the corridor and the industry he’s gained a perspective on Garibaldi and concludes: "The timing is right when it’s right, not when you think it’s right."

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