The Proposed British Columbia Mega-Resort That Would Be the Biggest Ski Area in North America

Martin Kuprianowicz | | Industry NewsIndustry News
The proposed VGD Resort would be the biggest ski area in North America with the third largest vertical drop in the world | Photo courtesy Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.

The area for the proposed Valemount Glacier Destination Resort, which is expected to be the largest year-round ski resort in North America with the third tallest vertical drop out of any ski area on earth, could be described as a “mini AK.” Once completed, the resort will have up to 12,448 acres of skiable terrain and over 6,500 feet of vertical drop giving it the most vertical out of any ski resort in North America by far.

Excited yet?

VGD Resort terrain and lifts digital rendering | Photo courtesy Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.

The European alps-like ski Mecca would cover an area of nearly 31 square miles across a range of the Cariboo Mountains in the interior of British Columbia. Plans have been proposed and the project has received the blessing of the Simpcw First Nation, an indigenous community with over 12.3 million acres of unceded territory in BC. The First Nation community has even gone as far as to contribute several hundred acres of land to the project, with revenue-sharing plans in mind.

Approved in 2017, Valemount Glacier Destinations and its partners have already spent roughly $2.3 million on the first phase of the three-phase project, according to CBC Canada. Yet, although plans have been proposed and an initial investment has been made, the actual construction phase of VGD Resort’s Master Plan still hasn’t to come to fruition as several building constraints and financial dealings still need to be sorted out.

The behemoth resort is to be placed on Mt. Arthur Meighen near the humble Canadian village of Valemount that has a quiet population of about 1,000, a delicious pizza joint, a beautiful mountain bike park, and an award-winning brewery. The town is about a five-hour drive away from the nearest international airport in Edmonton, AB. Valemount has a small airport that is currently too small to support large commercial airlines from flying in ski tourists. But as the gears on this project begin to turn faster and faster, this may change.

The village of Valemount | Photo courtesy Facebook.

Owen Torgerson, the village’s mayor since 2018, sat down with me for a socially-distanced, FaceTime interview about the current status of the resort project. He, like myself, was beyond eager to talk about how to get this beast of a ski hill out of the planning phase and into the building phase.

What are you most excited about with this project? 

“Well, having a couple of ski poles in my hand,” Torgerson chuckled. “[VGD Resort] will be North America’s first all-season resort. That means skiing year-round. Sight-seeing year-round. You name it. It’s the best combination of geography and climate and it will have the highest lift-accessed glacier skiing for year-round sight-seeing and snowsports.”

Valemount, BC on a map | Photo courtesy Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.

Valemount has a population of about 1,000. How do you expect it to grow with the development of this ski area?

“We have a lot of horizontal area but what we’re working on right now is densification. So, the sky’s the limit.”

The last observable news on the project’s website is from 2017. Can you tell me the latest news on this project coming out of Valemount? 

“We’re still seeking investment during these trying and certainly unprecedented times. But with the support that this project has from the Simpcw First Nation, we are confident this will boost investor confidence.”

What can you tell me about the airport in Valemount? Can it handle commercial airliners? Are there plans to reconstruct it?

“Valemount’s airport cannot handle, say, a 727 commercial airliner at this time. It’s a bit too short and the touch-down zones are a bit too thin. So, working with the resort throughout phase one and phase two, we’d be looking to expand that for sure. [The runway] is currently 3,900 feet long and we’d like to take that to 5,000+ and then widen it from 75 feet to about 150 feet wide. But it’s fully serviced right now with GPS landing, precision approach, fuel distribution, and a small terminal.”

The proposed study area for the VGD Resort | Photo courtesy Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.

VGD has the same developer as the controversial Jumbo Resort, which was opposed and then barred from development. Do you see this as a problem at all?

“No. Because the major difference between Jumbo and this project was consultation with the indigenous communities. With this project, I think they learned from Jumbo that you have to have consultation early and often and that’s exactly what they did with this project. The Simpcw First Nation have been in support of this project from the getgo, and the proponents [of this project] have been meeting their requirements, working toward archaeological overview assessments, cultural heritage assessments, and extensive environmental assessments.”

What are you working on right now with this ski resort project?

“We’re working with the province for road design. The requirements are quite extensive and we’re trying to make it a bit more realistic for where we are right now. Having road construction to meet future specifications is key but we also need roads to be a bit more feasible, construction-wise, for what we’re doing right now.”

An artistic rendering of the proposed base village of VGD Resort | Photo courtesy Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.

How has the pandemic set you guys back, project-wise?

“Canada and British Columbia especially have been focused around the health aspects of COVID and we’re just now getting to the economic rebuild of the process. And I think this project can be a spark. If anything, COVID has positively had an impact on this project, because now this project’s economic potential is being realized. Once our provincional health officer lifts restrictions on international travel and if phase one is well underway by that time, people will be clawing to get up here.”

How do foresee this project — do you see the project taking off right away?

“Yeah actually, I do. Again, just reiterating the support from indigenous communities, this isn’t just going to have economic activity locally. This is going to have an economic boom for the entire province of British Columbia.”

Vertical drop comparison of the world’s tallest ski areas. VGD Resort would clock in at #3 | Photo courtesy Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.

Anything else you’d like to add about the VGD Resort project?

“What we’re trying to achieve is the largest vertical rise and one of the most exhilarating mountain experiences in North America. We’ve got the climate. We’ve got the geography. We’ve got the support. It’s right next to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ve got the groundwork ready for transportation and hotel partnerships. I can’t reiterate this enough: we’ve got clear and supportive agreements in place already with the First Nation which is imperative for business/investor confidence here in British Columbia and this is designed for the visitors of today and tomorrow, taking climate change into consideration. The design and development team have a very unique track record and we’re very excited to get this project underway.”

Mt. Arthur (10,515′) is the proposed peak for the VGD Resort to be centered on near Valemount, BC | Photo courtesy Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.

According to the Resort’s master plan, in total, the resort will have 18 lifts built over three phases. The planned inventory includes:

2 magic carpets;

4 gondolas;

6 detachable quad chairs;

2 Fixed grip quad chairs, and

4 glacier T-Bar lifts.

“There will be a total of 813 hectares (2,009 acres) of ski runs at build-out and the lift network and the ski area will have an Adjusted Comfortable Carrying Capacity of 9,500 at build-out. The Balanced Resort Capacity will be 11,086. Water will be supplied from wells, and the resort will have its own state-of-the-art tertiary treatment sewage plant.

The project proponent is Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd., a single-purpose company based in Vancouver, BC with investors from British Columbia and Ontario.” — VGD Master Plan

The project was drafted in 2017 on a five-year agreement with hopes to be completed by 2022. However, there is a chance, Mayor Torgerson said, that the project may go beyond the initial five-year agreement. But he, like myself, and the other million anxious skiers and snowboarders who are drooling over this proposed monster ski area, prefer that they just get going right away.

To learn more about the VGD Resort project, download and read the master plan from the project’s website here

 


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