By Andru McCracken

Is the cancellation of Jumbo Glacier Resort in the Kootenays linked to the future of Valemount Glacier Destinations Resort?

Tommaso Oberti, the Vice President of Pheidias Project Management Corporation and the person in charge of communications for Valemount Glacier Destinations, said there is no investor overlap between the two projects.

“It is a completely different animal,” he said.

He said some benefits might flow to the Valemount project because it makes it the only project of its kind, but at this point it’s theoretical.

“Jumbo shows how incredibly hard it is to do something transformational for tourism. Despite our wealth of mountains it shows how incredibly hard it is to access mountains of this calibre,” he said. “By subtraction, it benefits Valemount.”

We asked whether potential investors should be warned off investing in mountain projects because of what happened to the project in Jumbo.

Tommaso said Valemount’s process was better.

“It was transparent, straightforward and fair. It’s a story of how things can be done well,” he said.

Tommaso said Jumbo took 21 years to sign a Master Development Agreement with the Province, whereas Valemount took only five years.

“What is unique and rare in Valemount, is that you have different interests that are aligned: First Nations, the Province, investors and the local community. That’s what makes Valemount so special aside from the geography.”

When asked why the project is taking so long to raise the funds to begin construction, Tommaso said he didn’t have insights into that side of the business.

“That’s not what we do as Pheidias. It’s been a bit frustrating the process has taken so long,” said Tommaso.

He ventured that because a resort project of this calibre doesn’t come around too often it may be especially difficult to find funding.

Interestingly Tommaso said Pheidias has been approached by new parties interested in the project.

“The fact is, there is significant investor interest,” he said.

“I don’t want to put false hope out there. We’re optimistic we will break ground sooner rather than later. But we don’t have a timeline on it.”

Different and separate from Jumbo

Joseph Nusse has played a special role in the Valemount Glacier Destinations project. He pitched the concept to Pheidias’ president Oberto Oberti almost 10 years ago with Economic Development Officer Silvio Gislimberti.

Nusse said from the outset Valemount took special care to distinguish the project from the controversial Jumbo Glacier Resort.

He hopes that separation continues.

“The people of the Kootenays have made their decisions and we in this region have made ours completely independently of each other. We look forward to working with anybody who understands and buys into this vision and we most certainly hope to help Oberto and his team realize this badly-needed facility right here in our backyard.”

Nusse said it is impossible to know what cancelling the Jumbo Glacier Resort would mean here.

“One would hope that private investors do not just pull their interest out of British Columbia entirely as they did with the Trans Mountain Pipeline and now Jumbo Glacier Resort and instead seek out major projects that are approved and supported by an overwhelming broad base including First Nations,” said Nusse.

He said points to solid grassroots vision and support from the community and the Simpcw First Nation.

Nusse said the project is really unique because it brings visitors to glacier covered mountains 3,000m tall – an offering unmatched on the continent.

“There are over 30 developments in Europe [like this], but as of Saturday, there will be only one such potential development in North America,” he said.

Lack of action concerning
Ryan Stuart, a journalist and editor for Ski Canada, has written stories about Jumbo Glacier Resort and Valemount Glacier Destinations. He doesn’t see a clear connection between the cancellation of one project and the future of the other.

Stuart said he’s been wondering what is happening with Valemount’s for some time.

“Over the years no one even replies to emails about what the state of it is,” he said. “This has always made me kind of question whether it will happen.”

For Stuart, unexplained delays and lack of progress call the project into question.

“The longer it is dragged out, the more you start to wonder if it will go ahead,” said Stuart.

In the intervening time, Squamish’s Sea to Sky gondola has been an amazing success, and Stuart takes it as an indication that sightseeing gondolas can succeed.

“When they built Squamish’s Sea to Sky gondola, a lot of people said this is bizarre, that it wasn’t going to work,” he said. “In Europe you have lifts that take you into the mountains sightseeing – not a ski resort – here you are in the alpine and you do whatever you are going to do. It is similar to what Oberti has talked about.”

It’s so successful, said Stuart, that another is being considered east of Vancouver.