Dec 1, 2000 | Marmot, Winter 2000

Introducing DON SHARP New Director of Resort Services focuses on people services at Mt.Washington.

Don Sharp and family enjoy their move to the Comox Valley. In fact, the kids think they are on a permanent holiday!

Don Sharpe rattles off his list of responsibilities at Mt. Washington like a shopping list: snow school, rentals, Kidz Zone, nordic, retail, food and beverage, marketing – and on, and on. But the new Director of Resort Services takes it all in stride. Sharpe was hired this summer to take over from Peter Gibson, who was formally named General Manager after spending a year doing both jobs. Sharpe comes to the mountain from the prairies, where he ran the business end of the Calgary Zoo for almost five years. Prior to that he was the district manager for three high-volume restaurants, and also spent six years as general manager for Mother Tucker’s restaurants across Canada. Sharpe heard about the job opening at Mt.Washington via the Internet.

He flew out in August for an interview “and it worked out.” The Winnipeg native is not afraid to juggle his new responsibilities, as he was looking for just such a challenge. “It’s an amazing environment. I don’t just do one thing, I do a myriad of things … my major role is to manage existing winter programs, develop new ones and build the summer trade.”

And the move has given his family the opportunity to live near the ocean. “We can take the kids to the coast and flip rocks for three or four hours at a time, exploring,” Sharpe said. “My son says it’s just like we’re on vacation all the time now.” Sharpe moved his family to the Comox Valley in early September, in time for school. His sons – 10-year-old Douglas and four-and-a-half-year-old Darcy – and daughter Cassandra, 8, are already active in the community.

Cassie is involved in Chimo gymnastics, while the boys are playing hockey. Sharpe’s wife, Chantal, still commutes several times a month to her job with West Jet in Calgary, where she is a flight attendant. Moving from the Calgary Zoo to a ski resort is not a big jump, Sharpe asserts. The product may be different – from animals to snow – but the methods are the same: food and beverage services, admissions (lift tickets), season’s passes, special events. “It’s all about people. We’ve got a bunch of experts doing their thing and it’s all about managing the process, and increasing the lines of communication.

“The similarities are you’re in an outdoor environment and (visitors) are here to have a fun day. It’s all about how you make that experience worth their while,” he says.

While at the zoo Sharpe was responsible for such major events as Boo at the Zoo, a 10-night series geared to kids aged 10 and under that drew 30,000 the last year he was there, and Wild Lights. For that event, a million lights lit up the zoo for the month of December as people enjoyed such winter activities as crafts for kids, fire pits and a snow zone play area.

“I’m hoping to use a lot of those ideas to generate events up here – to get away from the one-day events and spread them across a few days,” he said.

Sharpe admits he’s had big shoes to fill in replacing Gibson, who has been a fixture at the resort for more than 20 years. “He says I’m living with his ghost,” Sharpe says, chuckling. “It’s (transition) been pretty good. People still call him and then he calls me and we go from there.”

Sharpe has already developed some goals in his new role. “We’re a great winter resort, now we need to become a great year-round resort … the zoo did a million people a year, so we’ve got to grow to that.

“Another thing I think we can factor on is doing more catering, banquets and such. It’s an untapped area … that we can load up on in the shoulder season,” he said.

The ski season has barely begun and Sharpe is already looking to next summer, when he hopes to put some of his new ideas into play. He’d like to see some evening chairlift rides, where people ride the Eagle Express to the summit to watch the sunset over Strathcona Park. And he’s looking at ways to utilize the new courtyard between the main lodge and the Bradley Centre.

“We want to develop more children’s activities like a playground, or overnight or day camps in the Kidz Zone area,” he adds. Then there’s disc golf, a driving range into the area where the O-Zone tubing park is, and more trails.

“We’ve already booked a weekend for a ‘mountain luau’,” he said. “There’s a lot of little things we can do to take it up to the next step, and that’s where my whole focus has been.” While he’s spent the past five months learning the ropes and getting ready for opening day, Sharpe has also eagerly awaited the ski season.

“I’m not a great skier, but I’m going to do it a lot. My kids are all excited about it, and Chantal wants to get into Nordic skiing. And I think it would be cool to do more snowboarding.”

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