Pacific Groups Resort & Expansion Plans
After two years spent studying operations at Mount Washington Alpine Resort through winter and summer seasons, new owners Pacific Group Resorts is starting to move ahead with infrastructure and capital expenditures.
Pacific Group Resorts, based in Park City, Utah, describes itself as “an international collection of geographically diversified Resorts.” Each of its properties is purposefully situated less than a three-hour drive from one or more metropolitan markets. Their American Resorts include Wisp Resort in Maryland, Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and Ragged Mountain near Boston, Massachusetts and Manchester, New Hampshire.
"Mount Washington Alpine Resort is PGR’s first foray into the Canadian ski resort industry, and so far it’s been an interesting journey," says Mark Fischer, Executive Vice-President of Pacific Group Resorts. “There’s certainly some differences; different ways of doing things. Generally they’re both good market based economies and the logic behind everything is pretty much the same,” he said. “You people up in Canada are spectacular. It’s absolutely beautiful up there; we’re delighted to be up there.”
Pacific Group Resorts purchased Mount Washington two years ago and after two full winters and summers of studying operations and working in the background at Mount Washington, PGR is starting to make changes. Two areas of emphasis for the company are snowmaking and summer activities. Extensive planning has taken place for snowmaking infrastructure, along with two winters of experimentation.
“We always put emphasis on summer business. Otherwise you have an asset that’s only working three or four months out of the year,” says Fischer.
The Resort is only part of the package at Mount Washington, and at all of Pacific Group Resorts’ properties. The company, including its predecessor Pacific Group, has built more than 1,000 real estate projects in more than 30 years, and Mount Washington will be no different. Pacific Group Resorts has put two pieces of property up for sale, each approximately four acres, which would be suitable for townhomes, condos or a hotel.
The philosophy at PGR, according to their website, is “a lift ticket provides a day’s worth of memories, but a vacation home provides celebrations for a lifetime.” While the real estate market may be hungry for new development at Mount Washington, Fischer said there is a limit when it comes to commercial development. A previous ownership group talked a couple of decades ago of creating a commercial core for Mount Washington, but Fischer said Pacific Group Resorts is not looking at the same type of plan. “We’re not Whistler, we don’t have two million people coming through our place every year,” he said. “We’ve got about 10 per cent of that.”
A commercial core of retail and restaurants doesn’t make sense for the market, he said. Take a look at eateries, for example: the Resort added Eagle View Bistro last year and ran it through the summer. “We now have three restaurants in the building plus a cafeteria. There are four food outlets in (the Alpine Lodge). Except on the busiest days we don’t max out,” Fischer said. “We don’t see a great deal more demand for restaurants. “We have to be realistic of the demand up there. It’s not like some places where you build it and they will come. We can only build to what the place can handle.”
Mount Washington is also uniquely positioned on Vancouver Island, which has a population of approximately 750,000, not including tourists. “I’m of the opinion that we want to meet demand and provide the opportunity to have a good vacation,” Fischer said. “We have to be prudent in our investments.”
Pacific Group Resorts has begun investing in its first Canadian Resort with cosmetic work on the exterior of the Alpine Lodge with plans for a patio for the Eagle View Bistro next summer, to $145,000 in new ski and snowboard rentals and the purchase of a $300,000 Nordic Cat.
One of the larger and longer-term plans the Resort is working on is installing a snowmaking system. Snowmaking is a priority for Pacific Group Resorts at its other properties, and although Mount Washington is known for its big snow years, Mark Fischer, Executive Vice-President of Pacific Group Resorts said such a system would still be a benefit. Snowmaking is like an insurance policy for a regular opening day. A full snowmaking system, including hydro and water systems and a pumphouse, could run the Resort $15 million over 10 - 12 years.
Once the snow begins to melt, thoughts turn to summer, and how to give visitors the ideal summer experience.
“The Bike Park exceeded expectations,” Fischer said. Expect to see more emphasis on the Mountain Bike Park, including new or streamlined terrain and new rentals. The Resort spent $50,000 on new mountain bikes for rentals this year; they will continue to switch them out on a timely basis to make the latest technology available for visitors.
“You will see us slowly start to add summer programs and activities,” says Fischer. “It’s so pretty up there in the summer… we’d like to have more for people to do. We’ve had four generations of families up here now,” says Peter Gibson, the Resort’s General Manager, who will retire at the end of the 2017-18 winter season. “It’s the biggest winter draw on Vancouver Island. I’d like to see it continue with more focus on summer.”
While the Whiskey Jack Chairlift was painted green this summer as part of a plan to make all the lifts blend in with their natural surroundings, Fischer says there are no immediate plans to add or replace any chairlifts. “The lifts last 40 - 50 years; the oldest lift we have is Whiskey Jack and it’s been extremely well maintained by George (Trousdell, Director of Operations and Maintenance) and his guys,” Fischer added, “If you maintain them well and replace parts as they wear out (lifts) last for eons. The Resort’s alpine area is well laid out, he adds, so there aren’t any plans to install new lifts.
One item that people have asked about but isn’t being considered for Mount Washington is a mountain coaster. Pacific Group Resorts’ Wisp Resort in Maryland has a mountain coaster among other summertime activities. It’s similar to a roller coaster except riders are strapped into a cart and traverse a coaster track as it winds its way down the sloped course. “We haven’t done any studies on that,” Fischer said. “Our lift system isn’t conducive to them. The combination of the way the mountain is and the way our lifts are isn’t conducive to (a coaster).”
Pacific Group Resorts is also focusing outside of the lodge and lift areas. They have put two different parcels of land up for sale.
One of the lots, four acres in size across from the main parking lot - the former recreational vehicle lot - could potentially be developed into townhomes or condos. The second lot is also approximately four acres, located between the bottom of the Hawk chairlift and Henry Road, and would be suitable for a hotel or condo development. “One of the lots we feel would make a great site for townhome lots,” Fischer said. “It seems to us maybe there’s pent-up desire for some new product. We’ll see if we can’t find out if the market’s interested or not.”