Construction of a major, year-round, high-alpine ski resort and international-class sightseeing destination near Valemount, B.C., in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, could begin as early as next year.
The venture, conceived nearly eight years ago, would be a transformational project that would initially feature a day lodge, mountain-top restaurant, viewing platform, several ski lifts and a base area of infrastructure.
The site of the project is located near Mount Robson Provincial Park and Jasper National Park which, together with Banff and Yoho national parks, make up the UNESCO Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site.
Tommaso Oberti, vice-president of Oberti Oberti Architecture and Urban Design Inc. in Vancouver, hopes to get shovels in the ground in 2021 although he admits there remains some uncertainty due to the current economic climate.
The initial price tag for the venture was pegged at $100 million but could reach $500 million once the entire resort village is built. Efforts to raise funds are ongoing and there are several capital partners involved in the project.
“It will provide an alpine experience that is unlike anything else in B.C. or North America,” explains Oberti. “From a sightseeing perspective, it will give visitors the opportunity to access high-mountain glaciers and vistas and admire them from above, rather than below. This is very different from the predominantly valley-based experiences that are available in the national parks.”
The resort would be a first for North America, as it would be a truly alpine destination that would operate all year. The venue will be on the traditional territory of the Simpcw First Nation and centred on the eastern approaches of Mt. Sir Wilfrid Laurier with views of Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Rockies, with lift access to the viewpoints and glaciers surrounding Mt. Arthur Meighen by way of Mt. Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The plan calls for a ski-in-ski-out resort village containing up to 2,295 bed units west of the Village of Valemount and at the base of Mount Trudeau. In total, the resort will have 18 lifts built over three phases. There will be 813 hectares of ski runs at build-out. Elevation at the top of the peaks will be 3,025 metres with a vertical drop of 2,090 metres, the largest in North America and the third largest in the world.
To build the venture, materials will have to be trucked into the area for the resort village and moved up the mountains for the lift infrastructure and restaurant. According to Oberti, the lift system will be specially designed to carry the building materials up to the peaks.
“Amongst other considerations, the project’s lift system has been designed with construction in mind and access road alignments have been identified,” he said. “Similar lifts have been built around the world many times, including at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which we designed. There are, of course, much more complex and difficult-to-build lifts in many parts of the world than what is envisioned for Valemount.”
Construction of the mountain portion of the venture is expected to create about 437 person-years of employment for tradesworkers and another 5,500 person-years of direct, indirect and induced jobs for accommodation, infrastructure and roads over the construction timeline.
The idea for the project began in 2012 when the consultants were approached by the Village of Valemount to investigate the possibility of developing a glacier skiing destination as a means of economic diversification and stimulus.
The venture really picked up steam in 2017 when Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd. and the Province of British Columbia signed a 60-year master plan agreement approving the destination. The Mountain Resorts Branch of the province led the review process in harmonization with the Regional District of Fraser Fort-George’s local government process.
The process resulted in a provincial master plan approval and unanimous consent for an official community plan amendment and rezoning by the regional district in 2019. Simpcw First Nation, which will be a partner in the venture, also signed off on the project.
Oberti says the project will be unique as it will combine both skiing and sightseeing opportunities and has strong and wide-ranging support from the local community, First Nation and regional and provincial governments.
“From a skiing perspective, it opens up big mountain skiing, similar to what can be found in the European Alps, but without the crowds and uncertain snow conditions, and heli-skiing in British Columbia. With its heli-ski-quality snow, summer skiing opportunity and incredible and varied terrain, the snowsports experience will be unique for a resort in North America. This a mountain-centred project with a focus on the alpine experience and sightseeing and will be a new kind of product for our tourism industry.”