Jul 1, 2003 | Marmot, Summer 2003

Access: Mount Washington

Mount Washington Alpine Resort has never been more accessible to visitors than it is now.

Whether by train, plane or automobile, visitors are able to get to the Alpine Resort quicker – and by more options – than ever before.

There are three airlines (Helijet, Pacific Coastal and WestJet) offering air service to and from the region, train service from Victoria to Courtenay, bus service and even the possibility of cruise ship passengers offloading in Campbell River and spending a port-of-call day exploring the slopes.

Earlier this year Helijet moved into Campbell River Regional Airport, offering the first international flights connecting the North Island with Seattle.

The Campbell River—Seattle route is Helijet’s first with a fixed-wing aircraft: a new, 18-seat Beech 1900D turboprop commuter plane that makes the trip to Boeing Field in 50 minutes at a cruising speed of 180 knots.

Helijet has three flights per day scheduled to and from Seattle; there are also daily flights to Abbotsford in the Lower Mainland. The new international route will open up the entire U.S. for outbound travellers (and for inbound snow sport enthusiasts too) thanks to alliances with Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines.

Helijet was founded in 1986 and offers helicopter passenger services on two-, four, five- and 12-passenger choppers, acts as an air courier and also provides air ambulance service.

Because Helijet’s new commuter plane is small a flight attendant is not required, base manager Bob Claridge said, however, the first officer is available if necessary. Three pairs of flight crew, all based in Vancouver, rotate on the Campbell River-Seattle route.

Customs service is provided at Campbell River Airport in a newly renovated area. The Airport has also procured an x-ray machine for screening carry-on baggage before loading an aircraft, although passengers may be subjected to manual baggage searches.

“By the time we think our loads will get busy … this should be up and running,” Campbell River passenger service agent Donna James said.

Eventually, Helijet hopes to land at SeaTac airport in Seattle, where passengers can connect with Alaska Airlines and other major airlines. For now, though, passengers disembark and go through customs at Boeing Field, then can take a free, 15-minute shuttle to SeaTac to connect with other flights.

Helijet pilot Carey Steacy, who has flown the Beech 1900 for five years with another company, said she was happy to hear Helijet would partner with Mount Washington on possible ski packages. The Resort will team up with Helijet in some capacity, although management isn’t yet sure how they will partner with the airline

Resort officials will travel to Seattle in the summer to spread the word about Mount Washington, and to offer packages for summer accommodation. They added that Helijet does offer better pricing for groups travelling together.

Resort Public Relations Director Dave Hampshire said he will be promoting the Alpine Resort in the Seattle area, and Chris Hounsell, who is in charge of group programs, is trying to tee up some familiarization tours for Seattle media this summer.

While Helijet is just breaking into the market, Calgary-based WestJet continues to be a boon for Mount Washington.

WestJet began regular flights between Comox and Calgary nearly three years ago. As in the first year of WestJet’s operation, the Calgary-based airline printed coupons on the back of their boarding passes for Mount Washington. In the past the coupon was good for a free day pass, but this year it was for two day passes for the price of one.

The Resort said they had 196 people take advantage of the boarding pass special (times two, since they all brought friends) – that’s up from 49 who used the coupons the first year they were offered.

WestJet began direct service between Comox and Edmonton in mid-June, so now offers daily flights to and from both southern and northern Alberta.

And with a new air passenger terminal in the wings for the Comox Municipal Airport – officials are hoping the terminal will be built in time for the 2003 Christmas season — the sky’s the limit. Negotiations are now underway for continued rail service connecting Victoria and Courtenay – including the seasonal ski train.

The future of the E&N Railway has been up in the air since January 2002, when Norske Canada – the railway’s biggest source of revenue – pulled its rail service in favor of truck carriers.

A group called the Vancouver Island Railway Co. was formed last March, and has been negotiating with the E&N Railway Co. to take over ownership of the railway.

The Vancouver Island Rail Development Initiative completed a nine-month study on the future of rail service on Vancouver Island had decided that rail service is feasible, but present service needs a facelift.

Vancouver Island Railway Co. spokesperson Tanner Elton is hopeful negotiations will continue throughout the summer and that a deal may be struck.

The group also has the backing of Island politicians, who are on board with saving the E&N.

Campbell River is one step closer to a cruise ship docking facility – which could spell opportunity for Mount Washington Alpine Resort.

The Campbell River Indian Band will receive $300,000 in federal and provincial grant money to upgrade the Argonaut Wharf (also known as the Boliden-Westmin wharf), in the hopes of attracting cruise ship business.

The $300,000 ($200,000 from the federal B.C. Economic Partnerships Fund and $100,000 from the Economic Measures Fund) will pay for preliminary planning and design for a wharf upgrade, according to media reports. The cruise ship port-of-call committee estimates the project will cost $3.5 million to upgrade Argonaut Wharf to cruise line standards.

News of the funding plan came in late April, two weeks after the Norwegian Cruise Lines cancelled a planned stop in Campbell River by the 260-metre Norwegian Sky over logistical concerns.

The cruise ship committee is hoping to attract a smaller boutique ship – with about 250 passengers — to the River City sometime in July. Cruise ships such as the Norwegian Sky carry about 2,400 passengers, all looking for things to do during their ports of call. And Mount Washington is only a 45-minute drive from downtown Campbell River.

Last year, Lynn Phillips, Executive Director of Tourism North Central Island, said Campbell River could easily handle 15 cruise ships a year. Economic opportunities would be “practically endless,” she said.

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