Construction begins on the long-awaited Vancouver Island Mountain Sports Centre

Mountain Sports Centre“The dirt will fly this summer, it’s good to be at this point,” says Rick Morson, President of the Vancouver Island Mountain Sports Society (VIMSS), which is overseeing the construction of the Centre.

Morson has been involved with the multi-phased project since its inception in 2003, and is looking forward to seeing the Centre complete.

“It’s going to be really nice to have it finished but it’s exciting to have it where it is now, becoming a reality,” Morson said.

“CEI Architects of Victoria completed the final designs in the spring and a contractor is due to be chosen in June,” Don Sharpe, Mount Washington Alpine Resort Director of Business Operations said, “ground was already broken as the snow began to melt so soil samples could be taken for environmental assessment, Mount Washington Alpine Resort.”

Once complete, the Centre will be a regional training centre focused on emerging athletes - much the same as VIMSS, which, since 2003 has supported budding mountain sport athletes through bursaries and scholarships.

The wheelchair accessible Centre will feature a full complement of sport-specific facilities, such as a fitness centre, equipment maintenance room, coaches’ offices, a multi-purpose media room and group accommodations for 40 in a hostel-like setting. People who live and work at Mount Washington full time will be able to take advantage of the fitness centre by either memberships or drop-in fees, Morson said.

VIMS SiteAn Operations Manager will be hired, and will live onsite in a Caretakers’ suite. An Executive Director will make sure the Centre runs as a sustainable business, an independent consultant, George McKay of Victoria, has been hired to develop the Centre’s operational plan “so that when we do open, we open busy,” Sharpe said.

Morson expects the building to be in lock-up phase by October and operational sometime around January 2011.

The entire project, of which the Centre is the final phase, is expected to come in around $2.2 million. Funding has come from a variety of sources, including the Western Economic Diversification Fund, Island Coastal Economic Trust, Mount Washington Alpine Resort and the Federal Government’s Community Adjustment Fund.

Other sponsors, such as TimberWest, have also been key, Morson said. “Rick Gibson of Royal LePage has been an important private donor for the project. He’s contributed a large amount of money for the building of the centre,” Morson added. “He’s so committed to the mountain and what it stands for; he’s helped make this happen.”

A longtime snow enthusiast himself, Morson supports the Mountain Sports Centre and VIMSS because they both improve youth participation in mountain sports (skiing, snowboarding, biathlon and mountain biking). Morson coaches with the Strathcona Nordics and is a master racer too (he started skiing at Mount Washington in 1981 and at Paradise Meadows with a Comox Valley-based ski club in the mid-70s).

The Centre is expected to attract user groups from the recreation, sport and education sectors such as ElderHostel, school groups, summer camps and perhaps one day the parks and recreation departments from surrounding communities, Morson said.

Mount Washington based user groups are anxious to see what the facility will look like and how it will operate once it’s finished.

“We are very excited to see the Mountain Sports Centre go ahead,” said John Trimmer, head coach of the Mount Washington Ski Club.

“This will give us a much needed place to work on fitness while on the mountain and it will provide teams visiting us to race and train with the perfect place to stay.”

Trimmer said the Ski Club will take advantage of the new Centre in all seasons “and I know it will give our team an extra little jump on the competition.”

For Dave Battison, head coach of the Strathcona Nordics, the potential the mountain sports centre will have for his Club is still an unknown. “I think the facility is great,” he said. “The Hostel is going to be good for us to do camps. The rest of it is yet to be seen, how it’s set up and run.”

The Nordics have operated the past six seasons without an office or facility, so he is interested to see how the cross-country teams will fall into the building’s setup.

Strathcona Nordic Biathlon Club coach Joe Bajan said the new Centre will help in two ways as the Club rebuilds its programming.

“It’s a valuable tool we can use for training athletes,” he said. “In the big picture it’s really going to help us attract more outside-the-area biathlon groups to come in and train.”

The Centre will also help enhance Mount Washington Alpine Resort’s reputation of being able to accommodate teams with their first-class facilities, and the clubs that compete at the Resort will benefit indirectly, he added.