This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
When the original developers of Revelstoke Mountain Resort crafted their Master Plan back in 2003, they dreamed big. They envisioned a rapid development that would lead to the largest ski resort in North America, with more terrain than Whistler/Blackcomb, some 16,600 beds and much, much more. For a brief period, when the initial real estate offering went like hot cakes and the Revelation Gondola and Stoke Chair opened in 2007, it might have felt like those dreams would come true.
As we know, a year later the global economy went into a prolonged recession and RMR nearly collapsed. Real estate sales fell through and Northland Properties, who were initially a minor investor in the resort, stepped in to save RMR from bankruptcy. They took on significant debt and followed through on the first phase of the development, installing the Ripper Chair, finishing the Sutton Place Hotel, making incremental improvements to the skiing experience, and adding a summer product centred on the Pipe mountain coaster and new hiking trails – a total investment of more than $200 million over 10 years, according to Northland.
Eleven years into the resort’s life, and the master plan has been given an update that tempers expectations while teasing developments to come. It provides an inventory of what’s been built and what may happen in the future. The initial plan still remains the goal, but the update reflects what has been built and “realistic growth expectations” for the future. Notably, the original developers forecast 645,000 skier visits in year 10 (2016-17), but the resort barely achieved a third of that by 2015-16. While ticket sales have increased by an average of seven per cent per year, they don’t come close to matching what was predicted.
As well, real estate sales are essentially non-existent – the resort only sold one condo in 2016.
The update describes RMR as a “boutique world class skiing destination” and compares it to Jackson Hole and Telluride, two world-renowned resorts in remote locations, and it sees the resort developing in that direction.
What’s in store? The document, combined with a May presentation by RMR VP of Operations Peter Nielsen to Revelstoke council, fleshes out a number of initiatives. On the mountain, Nothland says it is looking at three new chairlifts – lifts 1, 11, and 18 as they’re numbered on the master plan. Lift 11, which RMR plans to install next year, would create some badly needed beginner skiing at the top of the gondola and a quick route to the Ripper. Lift 1 would serve the estate lots on the lower mountain and would provide an alternative route out the base, though it wouldn’t provide access to the upper mountain. Lift 18 would be located beyond south bowl and would lead to a major expansion.
Other winter plans include cross-country ski trails, snowmobile tours, hut-to-hut ski touring, a skating rink, ice climbing and dog sledding.
The resort seems to be most optimistic about growing its summer operations and tapping into the millions of people who drive past Revelstoke on the Trans-Canada Highway every year. “RMR is in a unique position to develop an ambitious summer activities program to appeal to this market,” the plan states.
We know of the success of the Pipe, which saw about 80,000 riders in its first year and continues to be a hit. Last summer, RMR opened the upper gondola for sightseeing, and this year it is opening up 13 kilometres of new hiking trails. The plan calls for the development of alpine cross-country trails and an egress downhill mountain bike trail opening in the summer of 2019, while other summer operations being considered include zip lines, horseback rides, a via ferrata, and, yes, a golf course (but not until more real estate is developed.)
On the real estate front, the master plan update outlines the goal for the next phase of development, which would first include a new hotel in 2018, followed by townhomes, an RV resort, and staff housing, all around the existing village. Phases four and five will involve developing land between the resort and the city, while phases six and seven would see development southward.
Other than the hotel, the development of more real estate is contingent on RMR selling the existing backlog of 120 condo units and 17 estate lots, along with a general improvement in the resort real estate market. Northland also says new real estate is being hampered by so-called “predatory development” within the city that is built without the associated infrastructure costs RMR is faced with. The resort is “reluctant to proceed with any real estate development within the Base Lands due to the market erosion from widespread local residential and commercial development projects that are able to compete with RAVI’s program at an unfair advantage,” the plan states.