It’s a surprisingly descriptive, and dare we say, outdated, word that’s on many lips in Whistler and beyond this week: Jumbo.
In a surprise move this week, the B.C. government approved the development agreement for the Jumbo Glacier Resort, located in the Purcell Mountains about 57 kilometres west of Invermere, or more than a three-hour drive from Calgary.
The proposed development, which has been in the works for more than 20 years, has been extremely divisive, with both strong support and vehement opposition from various parties. But it seems nobody on either side of the debate knew the approval was coming.
“After more than 20 years of comprehensive and exhaustive reviews, it was time to make a decision. I approved Jumbo Glacier Resort's Master Development Agreement after reviewing all of the relevant documentation, and meeting with both First Nations and the proponent,” Steve Thomson, B.C.’s minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said in a Tuesday (March 20) press release.
Now the race is on for the proponents to break ground and move forward before the Environmental Assessment Certificate expires in 2014.
The vision is to create North America’s only year-round, glacier-based ski resort with up to 23 lifts and a 3,000 metre high gondola. According to the project website, the first phase will include a lodge, some vacation homes, the gondola, three t-bars and two chairlifts.
At ultimate completion, the resort base will include 143 single-family chalets, 240 townhouses, 974 condo/hotel units and 369 hotel rooms — for a total of 5,500 tourist beds plus 750 staff beds.
So what does it all mean for Whistler?
At first blush, a new ski resort in B.C. would indicate more competition for the ski tourism market for Whistler.
But we certainly didn’t hear any concerns from local officials as the news broke this week. A brief statement from Whistler Blackcomb was all but celebratory, saying the new resort would “enhance” the ski industry in B.C.
Sure, this week’s approval is merely a single step in the already very long road toward seeing the first lifts roar to life at Jumbo. With continuing opposition, 195 commitments for the proponents to deliver on, further permits to apply for and serious highway upgrades necessary, it could very well be another 20 years before Whistler has anything to worry about.
But we think it’s naïve to completely dismiss the possibility that Jumbo could impact Whistler.
While summer glacier skiing isn’t huge business in Whistler, the year-round aspect of Jumbo has the potential to draw summer skiers away. Jumbo is also gunning for resort municipality status, which would further split the Resort Municipality Initiative funding pie, potentially taking money away from Whistler.
Furthermore, at least a couple of locals have noted that a new resort boasting a climate “superior to any other mountain resort in the world” will draw international, seasonal workers away from Whistler.
And what about the lucrative and all-important “destination” skier market that’s so vital to Whistler businesses? It sounds like a trip to Jumbo will be a pretty big trek for visitors, but if you’re coming all the way from the U.K. or Australia, what’s another few hours more than what it takes to get to Whistler?
It’s probable that at least a chunk of those destination skiers would want to check out a brand new, glacier-based resort with what’s described as unique, breathtaking views. You can almost imagine the slick marketing campaigns — especially if the developers ditch the Disneyland-like name for something more modern.
With the threat of global warming, Jumbo could also crush Whistler’s coveted snow advantage in years to come.
Maybe it’s not something to lose sleep over right now, but there’s a Jumbo-sized competitor in the rear-view mirror that we think locals should be keeping an eye on.
- Jennifer Miller