In Profile: Peter Gibson
After 41 years of working at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, General Manager Peter Gibson has announced he will retire at the end of the 2017-18 ski season.
Gibson has been involved with the Resort since May 1977, shortly after the late Alex Linton and Henry Norie flew over the mountain and realized there was a skiing dream on the backside of the peak.
“I started having thoughts last October,” says Gibson. “I made my decision early summer but we kept it under wraps. I’ve had one of the greatest runs in the ski industry. To be able to be at one area for four decades, and to help it develop from scratch into one of the top Resorts in Canada has been a privilege and a lot of fun,” he says. “To have a job in your home town and to be able to do something that has been a passion all my life is a dream come true.”
Gibson started skiing at Forbidden Plateau in the Comox Valley when he was a child, and by the time he was 16 he was a full-fledged ski instructor. After graduating from Courtenay High School in 1967, he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree and Professional Teaching degree at the University of BC that he put to good use doing what came naturally: teaching skiing.
In addition to teaching at Forbidden Plateau and Mount Washington, Gibson also taught at Grouse Mountain and Whistler. In search of an endless winter, he was able to take an extended holiday and teach skiing at Ben Lomond, a ski area in Tasmania, Australia, during Canadian summers from 1989-92.
Gibson started with Mount Washington two years before the ski hill opened for business in 1979. For those first two summers his primary duty was operating a chainsaw and running the trail crew as they created the ski runs for the mountain.
“I was helping the founders figure out how to build the trails and infrastructure for the ski hill, but there was lots more that needed to be done, so while we cut trees we also planned the overall Resort and figured out how Ski School, Rentals and Resort Operations were going to work once the place opened,” he explained.
All the brainstorming and planning paid off, and Gibson was named Director of Skiing when the Resort opened. Over time he assumed greater responsibilities including Guest Services Manager and Director of Marketing. In 1999 he was appointed General Manager and in 2001 he became the President of Mount Washington.
Over the years, the opportunity to get out on the slopes during the work week became tougher, but Gibson doesn’t rule out getting back to the sport he’s been doing since he was 10 years old. “I’m still passionate about the sport,” he says. “You don’t just go cold turkey.”
Gibson will spend the next few months helping the Resort transition to a new GM. After that, he doesn’t have any specific plans. “I have a farm and May is planting month,” he says. “In springtime I find myself out in the garden.”
Gibson has lived on his six-acre farm since before his children were born - about 25 years. The orchard, greenhouse and vegetable garden take up his leisure time during skiing’s off-season. He has raised sheep in the past, and is thinking of bringing in a couple of beef cattle next spring. “Things will come my way. I don’t have plans to do much of anything.”
Pacific Group Resorts has already started looking for a new General Manager, and Gibson expects one to be in place before the end of the winter, to give him a chance to mentor his successor. “I’ve had a good response from everybody, not just here but in the ski industry,” says Gibson. “It’s a good feel.”
Christopher Nicolson, president and CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, has a long history with Peter Gibson - a past-chairperson of the CWSAA and 2013 winner of the CWSAA Jim Marshall Leadership Award. Nicolson graduated from Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay, and taught skiing at Forbidden Plateau a few years behind Gibson.
“I didn’t formally work at Mount Washington but I took courses there…it was certainly my formative years as a skier. Peter was always a part of that one way or another,” Nicolson said.
“I think he’s both a pillar within Mount Washington and Vancouver Island but also one of those characters that’s important to the ski industry,” says Nicolson.
The CWSAA serves skiers and ski areas across the west and it’s a testament to Peter that he was elected as chairperson, says Nicolson: it shows peer respect for Peter throughout the industry in Western Canada. n“Peter is from a different generation…anyone that’s been in this business for that duration deserves a lot of respect. It’s a special personality to be able to do all that.”
Gibson announced his retirement more than six months before the end of the ski season, and says it will take that long to find a replacement and transfer as much knowledge as a mentor to the new General Manager at Mount Washington.
Nicolson acknowledged that this is an unusual situation for a ski resort, “where you have somebody with a lot of memory and a lot of institutional knowledge that goes beyond Mount Washington, beyond lifts, it goes well beyond the evolution of the community at Mount Washington.
“Mount Washington is going through a process of capturing that knowledge. One thing we’re making sure as an industry is that we’re documenting that knowledge. That process is very important.”
George Trousdell, Director of Mountain Operations, expressed his appreciation for Gibson. “I’ve been here for 37 years, so not quite as long as Peter, but long enough to know him very well. His exit strategy is vintage Peter,” Trousdell said. “He’s leaving in good health, he’s in a good place, and he has given us enough time to allow for careful selection of a new General Manager, and the time for a thorough knowledge transfer between him and the new GM.
“Everything he does, he does thoughtfully and with an appreciation for those around him. I hope he enjoys his retirement because we’re going to miss him.”