By: Laura Keil

Canadian Mountain Holidays Heli-Skiing reacted last week to a letter circulated by the Valemount Ski Society and Valemount Chamber of Commerce that said CMH opposes Oberto Oberti’s proposed four-season resort west of Valemount.

The heli-ski and heli-adventure company, owned by Intrawest, has two lodges in the Valemount area. Their skiable tenure overlaps with the proposed resort area.

In January, the Ski Society asked the Chamber to circulate a letter asking local businesses to send letters of support to the Province to counteract CMH’s lobbying of the government; the letter said “CMH has opposed this development politically.”

In a letter dated Feb 4th, 2013 sent to the Ski Society and the Chamber, CMH spokesperson and Director of Sustainability Dave Butler said while “It would make little sense for us to openly support a project with such a dramatic impact on us as a company … we are neither opposing nor supporting the project.”

Butler said the statements made in the Ski Society’s letter were “inaccurate and unfair.”

“It is extremely unfortunate that no one from either the Chamber or the Ski Society chose to contact us, or to check the facts, before circulating this letter.”

The company has not taken a public stance either for or against the project since it was made public in Dec. 2011.

But in a letter recently acquired by the Goat, which was sent to Oberti in Dec. 2011, and cc’d to several provincial ministries, Alpine Helicopters-CMH CEO Jeff Potter wrote that, “It is important for me to state, unequivocally, that we strongly oppose the proposed development.”

In the letter he wrote, “I want to be very honest with you. We cannot support your proposal in any way, and must advise that we will take all steps necessary to prevent it from impacting our business. We strongly encourage you to look at other locations in the province where such a project would not have such a disturbing and devastating effect on an existing and successful tourism business.”

He closed the letter with, “We look for your immediate confirmation that you will abandon the idea of a ski resort west of Valemount.”

In an interview this week, Butler said that at the time that was the stance that CMH took on the project, but that is no longer the case. He says it would be better termed now as a “neutral stance.”

When asked why CMH does not take a public stance on the project, Butler said “It’s pretty difficult for us to do that before we know what the impacts are on our business.”

“If they caused our business to essentially disappear, it would be pretty irresponsible for us to support it.”

He says the project would result in loss of important ski terrain which would affect the viability of their lodges in which they have invested tens of millions of dollars. He adds it is unfortunate the province has not required the ski resort proponent to address or resolve the overlaps with their existing “business and legal rights.”

When asked why they opposed the project initially if they didn’t understand the impacts, Butler replied: “I don’t want to focus on the letter that was written a year and a half ago – where we’re at today, that’s the important piece.”

Their two Valemount-area lodges can accommodate up to 55 people at a time, and they host an average 990 people per winter season. He says they use that area a lot, given its proximity to their Cariboo Lodge, as it’s cost-effective for them to operate in that area.

CMH has a non-exclusive 30-year tenure area of roughly 1,400 sq. km for both Valemount-area lodges. Oberti’s total study area is roughly 165 sq. km. About 59 sq. km overlaps with CMH’s tenure.

Butler says he does not want to publicly release the number of times they use the terrain in Oberti’s proposed development area.

“Folks that don’t understand the business will try to suggest by seeing certain statistics that ‘Oh, they don’t use it very much,’ or ‘Oh, they use it a lot,’ without understanding the business.”

He says the technical nature of how CMH uses the terrain is going to be part of their discussions with the proponent and government.

“There’s no way we’re going to debate that in the public right now until we have the discussions with the proponent.”

Butler says they have not attempted to contact Oberti in the past year. They have asked government to require the proponent to resolve the overlap issues with their business before the project proceeds any further.

Oberti says he met with CMH officials before Christmas 2011, and this meeting was followed by the letter from CMH later that December.

“We did not see Dave at the economic initiative events of 2012 and did not have any meetings in 2012, but we hope to be in touch and to work together as we make progress toward the Master Plan,” Oberti wrote in an email to the Goat.

Oberti says he welcomes the more conciliatory tone of the letter from CMH to the Chamber of Commerce and the Ski Society.

“I see no good reason why CMH should not work with us, and I hope that we are beginning to see the first steps toward cooperation for the benefit of everyone.”

He says he sees opportunities for synergy if they can create a world class ski resort with lifts, but also one where guests can access the vast heli-ski territory from there, in comfort and in some cases with a shorter flight.

“For those people who prefer the remote lodges, these lodges will remain far enough that their experience will not be different.”

He says they are anxious to move forward to the Master Plan stage and to design a prime project that is truly in the public interest. They are currently awaiting an interim agreement with the provincial government. They have already submitted their
Formal Proposal.

The Valemount Chamber of Commerce has invited Butler to address its members in person to clarify the company’s position on the project.