With four years under their belt and an anniversary just passed, Pacific Group Resorts Inc. are well on their way to achieving the vision they had when they purchased Mount Washington Resort.
We are pretty keen on Mount Washington,” says Mark Fischer, Executive Vice-President of Pacific Group Resorts. “We knew what we had and were anxious for it.”
The ownership and management groups have been working on several ambitious projects in the past two years to achieve some of those goals.
“We really want to be a year-round Resort and we’re excited at the possibilities there,” Fischer said. “I think we’re well on the way. We’ve got a little bit more stuff going on before we’re full four-seasons…that’s the objective, is to have a lot of year-round activities.”
Having a four-season Resort will not just benefit visitors: the growing number of people living full-time in the Alpine Village and surrounding areas will also benefit from increased activities, he said.
The Resort has invested millions of dollars in infrastructure to bring snowmaking to the Mountain in the Beginners’ Area, the Tube Park and new for this season, a run from the base of the Eagle Express Chairlift to the top of Whiskey Jack.
State-of-the-art snowmaking equipment will bring some security to the beginning of the winter season, giving nature a chance to work on a good snow base.
Staff will continue to provide a variety of snow programs and a full slate of events to solidify the winter season.
Summer received a new lease on life in 2016 when the Bike Park was reopened.
Fischer and Bike Park Manager Mike Manara are confident the Park “is just going to get better,” Fischer said.“Mike Manara and his crew have done a great job with the Bike Park. I think the Bike Program is going to continue to grow and we’re pleased with that.”
Crews have been building new trails and are working on a Skills Park for next summer. It’s all part of a purposeful in-filling of the services offered, from new children’s programming at the Bike School to adding events to draw weekend overnight visitors.
Over the next three to five years the Resort will grow the trail network to 45 total kilometres, Manara said. They were at 20 kms at the beginning of last summer “and with the additions we’re closer to 30 kms now. We should be 32 to 33 kms of trail in the downhill part by the time next summer (2020) rolls around.”
Resort visitors can expect to see expansion at the Bike Park for the next few years as the trail crew and management alike have plans to develop the product from the beginner trails to expert runs, and filling in the gaps with services such as mountain bike guides, introductory weeks and more.
We are literally in a Mecca of mountain biking from the South Island to Campbell River. There’s trail networks literally everywhere. Our niche is we can be a one-stop shop,” Manara said.
In summer 2019 the first half of the Eagle’s Flight Ziptour course opened to rave reviews.
The Resort has been given the go-ahead by the British Columbia Safety Authority to complete the four-span course, which will be the longest on Vancouver Island at 2.3 kilometres of dual cable. The double whammy of the Bike Park and Ziptours will generate up to 10,000 new visitors, according to management estimates.
The Courtyard Patio and Outdoor Kitchen were hits with mountain bikers and tourists alike, and brought a new vibe to summer in 2019. “This will be the new normal for summer,” Resort Director of Hospitality and Sales Tim Defert said.
“We’re on the right side of the building, the activity side of the building, so you can watch mountain biking and other activities. People want to sit outside.”
Defert said the Bistro will stay the same for 2020, continuing on with the successes the Food and Beverage Staff have built over the past two years.
“We do have a new location opening this winter down on the bottom level (of the Alpine Lodge). It will be a Cantina opening - a licenced Mexican food stand.”
Mexican food is on trend right now: fast, flavourful and convenient. “It’s our first foray into Mexican,” he said. Look for Baja-style burritos and other such fare in a renovated, lounge-like setting.
Sushi will be back on the menu, as it was popular last year, and the Resort has re-vamped its pizza program with delivery offered Friday and Saturday nights to Bear and Deer Lodges.
“We may do more,” Defert said, depending on how well the service is received.
Now that the Ziptours have opened up terrain during the summer the Resort will look at how to bring food service to the top of the mountain. Lack of water and power present some unique challenges, Defert noted.
“We would very much like to be able to do that,” Fischer said, “have a place where people can grab a beer, something to eat and enjoy the views. It’s a spectacular place.”
The biggest challenges to a year-round Resort will be the months of May and November. “May because the snow hasn’t quite melted yet, and November because it’s not quite summer anymore but it hasn’t started snowing yet.”
There are no plans to build any Resort-owned residential developments at the moment, Fischer said. There is interest and movement in units that are already built in both the Alpine Village and around Henry Road. “We’re happy there seems to be renewed interest in the Alpine Village,” Fischer said. “People are buying (units) and fixing them up.“It’s a good vote of confidence in the area.”
Season’s Passes already hit a record for the 2019-20 season in October, further showing confidence in the Resort.
Mount Washington has a solid Management Team, Fischer added. “We’re looking forward to the next season with new stuff going on. Dean Prentice has done a really nice job. It’s hard to replace an institution like (former longtime General Manager) Peter Gibson, but Dean has done a great job.”
Until then, Fischer is happy with the pace that Mount Washington is growing since Pacific Group Resorts Inc. purchased the Island Resort. “We’re pretty deliberate,” he said. “We could have tried to go faster. We didn’t want to outrun our headlights, is the expression we use.