By Daniel Betts
Many Valley residents and readers of The Valley Sentinel might be cautiously optimistic to learn about a proposed ski resort in the Valemount area. The project is in the “preliminary conceptual stage of presentation and approval process,” according to Oberto Oberti MAIBC, President of Pheidias Project Management Corporation and Oberti Resort Design. Oberti and his corporation are responsible for such ski resorts as Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C., the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort near Invermere, B.C. and the proposed Crystal Mountain Expansion to year-round near West Kelowna, B.C..
According to Oberti, on December 6, 2011 an “Expression of Interest” was filed with the Province of British Columbia on behalf of “Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.” titled “Valemount Glaciers.” The application outlines a proposed project for an unplanned area of crown land under the jurisdiction of the Province of British Columbia and the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George near Valemount, B.C..
“The Expression of Interest is the required first step of an application process under the provincial ‘All Seasons Resort Policy,’” explained Oberti. “The goal is to obtain the right for us to engage in the extensive planning, with local people, necessary to secure approvals for the project.”
According to Oberti, while every project is different in many ways, this project has a particularly “encouraging” difference that sets it apart. “I have been called firstly by the community, rather than by a client,” said Oberti. “A great factor in this project is the collective focus and support of the First Nations, the Village, the regional district and the Province [of British Columbia]. It is very rare, perhaps unique; to see this kind of almost unanimous purpose and focus on a real project that has such international potential. This is the most exciting and encouraging aspect of the project.” Oberti notes the project is starting with an overwhelming sense of purpose with a tremendous collective focus on the idea of creating a true and unique international destination based on the distinctive geography, climate and glaciers accessed in the Valemount area.
On June 30, 2011, the Valemount Ski Society (VSS) was incorporated under the Society Act. According to the VSS constitution, the purpose of the society is “to promote a high-quality, spectacular alpine destination experience, use existing public and social infrastructure systems to minimize environmental impacts while maximizing local and provincial economic opportunities and market to a global audience.” Collectively, the members of the VSS have been working with Oberti in an effort to eventually bring a world-class ski resort to the Valley.
“The next step is the resubmission of the expression of interest, perhaps in an expanded manner and responding to potential preliminary comments, as a formal proposal, if the Province [of British Columbia] deems the project of sufficient interest to start a review and if the proponent is accepted as a proponent,” said Oberti.
Oberti noted the Province of British Columbia primarily controls the approval process. “If all goes well it may take from a minimum of 18 months to an expected maximum of 36 months. If it were to take much longer it is doubtful that the effort to create the project will be sustained,” said Oberti. He explained they plan to work seriously to break ground in the shortest possible time. “[Once] we achieve sufficient certainty of the approvals to place orders for lifts and to do the engineering in the necessary sequence, we can construct the opening phase in nine months.” Oberti expects to achieve a “world-class ski area and the only truly year-round ski area,” either in the opening phase or in the following year. However, Oberti cautions, “it will take about ten years to achieve what I would call the critical mass of the project, when the facilities will have reached ‘maturity.’”
Oberti believes the potential for Valemount’s growth, once an international destination has been created, will be substantial. “[It is] only limited by what the community and its council will allow. I believe that it would be appropriate for the Village of Valemount to consider preparing a master plan to determine its desired response to growth opportunities,” said Oberti.
Speaking for the Village of Valemount, Mayor Andru McCracken is pleased but cautious about Oberti’s project. “Oberto Oberti is a veteran at resort development and his experience shows,” said McCracken. He believes it is heartening that Oberti is trying to bring all the stakeholders together early on. “I’m not worried about the resort if it goes ahead. I’m sure it will be fantastic. What is more problematic are the implications for the Village.” McCracken is concerned the early knowledge of the project could unleash an “insatiable appetite” for second homes with multiple consequences. “I advise caution. Without planning we could be in a fix. Valemount would be a vibrant community, but most of us wouldn’t be able to afford it,” said McCracken. “I want to make sure we can afford to pay our taxes, and for those that don’t own a place, pay the rent. It’s important that our success provides an opportunity for the people who live here. We need vision. We need a plan. Not a top down plan; a community plan. We need to use our cohesion and use our gifts as a community to make this thing work.”
McCracken can understand if village and area residents are skeptical and believe it’s wise “not to put eggs in a basket that doesn’t even exist on paper yet.” Despite this very early stage, McCracken believes Oberti recognizes the great potential in Valemount. “I’m interested to see if residents support this. I do, but without widespread support any developer would run the other way.”
Every great project has a beginning. Marmot Basin, Kicking Horse and Lake Louise all started with an untouched mountain and a big dream. Of all the places in the world, Valemount has every reason to be skeptical and in the early stages of any project perhaps being cautiously optimistic is the best a struggling village can muster. However, the community can do its part by lending its support. It would be wise to engage all available stakeholders in such an endeavor as well as to present the Valley in the best possible light to potential investors, visitors and future residents.