New Ownership To Bring Year Round Investment
There is an air of excitement and anticipation at Mount Washington Alpine Resort this winter, after the Resort announced in November that Pacific Group Resorts Inc. from Park City, Utah, has purchased Mount Washington.
“The biggest thing this means is there is some stability as we move forward into the future,” said Don Sharpe, Director of Business Operations at Mount Washington. “We are looking forward to working with PGRI to take Mount Washington to the next level with improvements like snowmaking, where they have a strong background,” Resort President and General Manager Peter Gibson said.
Mount Washington was put on the market in October 2013. While financial details of the private sale were not disclosed, Sharpe confirmed Pacific Group representatives have made more than half a dozen trips to the Resort in the past two years. “This was not an easy sale. It’s a complex deal and it took a lot of time to work things out,” he said. Gibson said all parties owe their thanks to some government staff members “who helped us sort through permits and processes for the transfer.”
“Over the past 25 years, George Stuart and his ownership group have invested a tremendous amount of money and energy into Mount Washington,” said Gibson. “We are indebted to them for what they have helped us build here.
“Now it’s there time to retire from the ski business, and we’re pretty pleased with the group they’ve chosen to sell to.” The previous ownership group will retain two development parcels, which were not disclosed. Stuart and other stakeholders have invested $60 million in the Resort since 1989. Investments include upgrading the main lodge to adding the Bradley Centre, Raven Lodge, construction of the Sunrise Quad chairlift, replacement of all the original chairlifts and expansion of terrain into the Outback. They saw accommodations expand from the original Alpine Village in 1979 to numerous condo units, private chalets and homes built in new subdivisions. A state-of-the-art sewage treatment centre was constructed several years ago to handle present and future growth at the Resort.
“We’ve been working with George Stuart and Darryl Eddy for a couple of years now on the transition of the resort to new ownership,” said Pacific Group Resort’s President of Resort Investments, Mark Fischer. “It finally worked out that this was the right time, and we are very excited to have the opportunity to add Mount Washington to our portfolio. “We are very happy to be working with Peter (Gibson) and his management group. They are industry pros and we’re proud to have them join our team.”
Snowmaking is going to be a large part of the new ownership’s focus, says Don Sharpe, Mount Washington Alpine Resort’s Director of Business Operations.
Snowmaking has been at the forefront of skiers’ and Resort Managers’ attention for the past two seasons, which have been adversely affected by weather. Pacific Group Resorts Inc. recognizes this and is considered a snowmaking industry leader in the United States. “There’s an extensive, multi-year plan for snowmaking,” said Mount Washington Resort President and General Manager Peter Gibson. The initial phase will see several test snowguns installed, most likely in the beginners’ area (a location had not been announced by the time The Marmot went to press).
“Snowmaking does two things,” says Sharpe. “It gives certainty you can open on time. The second thing is you can fill in spots where you need to top up and give you product on a more consistent basis.”
Mount Washington has tested all sorts of methods to collect snow over the years, from snow fences to adding sections in the trees for storing it. “This will allow us to put snow in the proper places; it gives us some certainty as we move into the future.” Manufactured snow is made from water mixed with compressed air, hence the “snow gun” moniker.
Pacific Group’s Wintergreen Resort, located in central Virginia, boasts a state-of-the-art computerized snowmaking system that can cover 100 per cent of its terrain, using 400 snow guns and 45 weather stations. One snowmaker can control all the snowguns in a computerized system using one computer terminal. Pacific Group’s other two Resorts, Ragged Mountain (in New Hampshire) and Wisp (in Maryland), boast systems that cover 85 per cent and 90 per cent of their skiable terrain, respectively.
The sale announcement generated excitement at the Resort and in the Comox Valley.
“This announcement of the sale of Mount Washington to Pacific Group Resorts of Park City, Utah is great news for skiers, boarders and the multitude of businesses on the island that feel the financial impact of the mountain’s daily operations,” Discover Comox Valley posted on their website. They predicted service will only improve at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, citing Pacific Group’s record with its other three resorts.
Tom and Heather Presnail, caretakers at Bear Lodge who have also owned a condo at Deer Lodge for eight years, are looking forward to seeing what Pacific Group has planned for Mount Washington. “We’re looking forward to the new ownership being able to build more infrastructure on the mountain, and put more in for summertime,” Tom Presnail said.
Visitors won’t notice an appreciable difference at Mount Washington this winter season, Sharpe said, as Pacific Group will spend the season getting to know the people who are running Mount Washington. The management team will remain in place at the Resort and aside from some test snow guns, “the operation will stay status quo. It’s going to be a bit of a transition period. “It’s going to take some time for everyone to get used to being together and figuring out what they want to do together. They’re very much behind the scenes; they manage three other Resorts and they trust their Management Teams to run the businesses.” Pacific Group will spend the winter taking a closer look at operations and developing a plan for the future, he said.
As far as expansion, Mount Washington already has a good mix of terrain and options for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. “I don’t see it being a big thing right now. Services I see as being big,” Sharpe said. Although adding a commercial core to Mount Washington has been discussed for more than two decades, it isn’t part of the conversation with Pacific Group at the moment. Pacific Group’s other three Resorts have full summer programs and Sharpe expects developing a stronger summer season will be no different for Mount Washington. “Summertime will be a big part of our growth as we move into the future,” Sharpe said. “Most resorts have recognized that summertime is something that is a big part of business.”
Photos courtesy Mount Washington Alpine Resort and Pacific Group Resorts Inc.