Snow Leopard puts Mount Washington on the Map
The biggest pre-Olympic secret at Mount Washington Alpine Resort turned out to be one of the darling ski stories of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
And it garnered more media attention than anyone at the Resort could have expected in an intense three-week period in February and March.
“I think Kwame took it to a new level. He was definitely a media machine himself,” Resort Director of Business Operations Don Sharpe said.
Kwame is Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, better known as the Snow Leopard - the Ghanaian Ski Team’s sole entry in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Kwame learned to ski just six years ago on an artificial indoor slope in Milton Keyes, England, where he was working at the time. If that didn’t set him up as a media darling for the 2010 Olympics, the fact that he qualified to represent Ghana, an African country not known for snow, as an alpine skier cemented it.
The Resort was expecting media coverage, considering the number of international teams that spent time there prior to the Olympics. But they didn’t quite expect the media frenzy that happened when the Snow Leopard landed, Resort Director of Public Relations Brent Curtain said.
The number of media that actually visited the Resort was triple what staff had estimated. “We had people on a daily basis just showing up that we weren’t expecting,” Curtain said.
On one day they had NBC, BBC from England, CNN and a few others onsite. “I had family call up and say ‘I saw you on CNN’,” he said.
Sarah Nicholson of Tourism Mount Washington met Kwame and his manager, Richard Harpham, last year at the Metro Ski show in London, England. At the time they were looking for sponsorship.
Nicholson and Katherine Munro from tour operator Canadian Affairs saw the potential behind helping the Ghanaian skier, and put a plan in place to bring them to Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
Nicholson was able to keep Kwame’s impending arrival a complete secret until January; major Canadian media met his entourage at the Comox International Airport, and the frenzy began.
“We held a full media event at the Kingfisher (Resort and Spa) where we booked initially for 20 people and we had up to 70,” Nicholson said.
“It was an absolute eye-opener. I knew we had pulled a good one but nobody was prepared for the media attention that it drew.”
“We were expecting media; we weren’t expecting the intensity,” Sharpe acknowledged. “The attention we got from Sweden and Germany and Switzerland and our own Canadian media was huge.”
That exposure helped the Resort through its fourth-busiest season ever, and also helped the Comox Valley achieve economic success in February and March.
“After the Olympic experience, I don’t know what the percentage would be, but way more people know about Mount Washington than previously, even though we weren’t an Olympic experience or an official event, ” said Resort Director of Public Relations Brent Curtain.
At least 130 international media outlets spent time at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, and spent money down in the Comox Valley.
“We have instantly gone from an unknown destination to being recognized on a worldwide level, not only for our sports facilities but also for our tourism, investment and immigration opportunities,” Comox Valley Economic Development Officer John Watson told the Comox Valley Record.
Watson estimates that $600,000 was spent on the local economy during the lead-up to the Games.
A complete report on the economic spinoffs of the Comox Valley’s National Olympic Committee Team Attraction Program was to be released after the Marmot went to press.