Section 8 - In Profile
Tobin Leopkey grew up on Vancouver Island skiing at Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
And even though the owner of Section 8 Snowsport Institute has skied the Austrian Alps, Whistler Blackcomb and other places, his heart belongs to Mount Washington.
Section 8 Snowsport Institute offers a Snowsport Leadership Training (SLT) Program that typically draws 20 students per year. Leopkey has lived at Whistler and explored other Resorts, but set his sights on Mount Washington once the Boomerang Chairlift was built and the Double Black Diamond Outback terrain opened.
Mount Washington was a more affordable option for a new small business, which allows Leopkey to offer a more comprehensive leadership course at competitive rates as well as an “off the beaten path” experience. Business has been challenging in the past few years due to lack of snow and early closures at Mount Washington. However, Leopkey got creative in dealing with things like weather that were out of his control. “We had to do a lot of juggling,” he said. “We managed to stall for a few weeks by moving the first aid course, winter camping and avalanche safety curriculum earlier in the program, as well as throwing in extra curricular activities and road trips.
“Both years we ended up having to move our entire group of about 20 people to another Resort for most of the season…it was pretty devastating for a small company like ours, forcing us into some pretty heavy debt.”
Reluctant to leave the Island mountain he loves so much, Leopkey found ways to adapt: smaller instructor training programs, and now developing shorter camps for recreational skiers like a series of three, four-day “Science Friction” Ski Improvement Camps, another Camp called ShredMed that he will run for a skiing medical conference, and the first-ever Snow Ninja Camp to be held in Japan at the end of February.
Section 8 offered two SLT courses last year at Mount Washington and Revelstoke, seeing what it would be like to operate at a different Resort. The eastern B.C. City wasn’t set up well for a season-long program, Leopkey said—not like Mount Washington. “I’m always amazed at how popular the Okanagan resorts are with overseas visitors,” he said. “They don’t have big mountains or amazing views but they’ve somehow managed to position themselves in the destination market. I think [Mount Washington] has got so much more going for it. “The skiing is just as good as any of those Resorts if not better, and the natural beauty of this place competes highly with any destination in the world.”
Leopkey is excited about the new ownership at Mount Washington, and says he expects good things will happen now that Pacific Group Resorts has taken over. “I really want to stick around for a while and see what the future holds for this place,” he said. “I’ve always thought Mount Washington has had so much potential. It’s such a unique place to ski in the world and I’m hoping the new ownership will help it reach that potential—and in turn make it a more attractive option for our potential students.
“We really don’t want to go anywhere else.” Leopkey and Section 8 aren’t the only ones feeling the vibe at Mount Washington. Robyn Heron, who is the new Group Sales Manager, said she has been networking in the Comox Valley and further afield, in Nanaimo and Victoria, and the buzz is real. “People are excited hearing there’s movement, and everything’s going forward,” she said. “It’s an exciting time. Even though the owners have been here for a year, people up here feel a lot of excitement.”