Rick Morson - Part of the team behind the VIMSS dream
Rick Morson's epiphany came while accompanying his children, then 12 and 14 years old, to a race in Pemberton, B.C.
Morson, Vice-President of CIBC Wood Gundy in Courtenay during the week and competitive skier on the weekend, stayed with the Strathcona Nordics' Cross-Country Ski Team in an outdoor centre at the interior ski resort. The experience got Morson thinking: such a centre would be perfect for Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
Two winters ago, Morson saw his dream realized as the Vancouver Island Mountain Sport and Education Centre opened its doors to the alpine community. Skiing has been an integral part of Morson's life since he was growing up north of Toronto, when he began competitive skiing at age 14. He was a member of the southern Ontario ski team while in high school (he graduated in 1976).
Over the past 10 years he and CIBC Wood Gundy have supported the Learn to Ski program at Mount Washington, putting 800 Grade 4 - 5 Comox Valley students per year through the cross-country ski program. If a simple reason is needed to explain why Morson has been so dedicated to the Mountain Sports Centre, it can be found in one word: payback.
As a young racer he learned dedication, persistence and insight - three traits that have served him well over the years, he says.
“I always felt I wanted to contribute something back to the sport.’ He had two opportunities: for six years he served on the executive of the National Cross-country Ski Association, at a time when Becky Scott earned a gold medal at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.
He also spent a number of years as marketing director for the Strathcona Nordics, and remains a competitive skier.
When the opportunity arose to get involved with the Vancouver Island Mountain Sport Society (VIMSS), he jumped. “It was the sort of organization that was best suited to take on the challenge of the mountain centre development,’ he said.
“Fundraising began in 2006, but planning really began in earnest in the summer of 2008, “he said, when VIMSS received the first commitment for funding from the North Island Coastal Economic Trust. “I can remember saying at that time, 'now the real work begins',’ Morson recalls. “I didn't think at that time I actually knew how hard that work would be.’
He thanks his staff at CIBC Wood Gundy, specifically Heidi Sherman and Maia Winter, for their support. “It's the type of work that if something happens and I get called away, they've supported my clients and the practice. The whole CIBC Wood Gundy office over the years has been tremendously supportive,’ he said.
The Mountain Centre has exceeded Morson's expectations.
The mountain community has taken the centre on as their own, and even Comox Valley municipal officials ask him whenever they see him how things are going with the Centre.
“Just to see people get excited about it is gratifying. It's not something when you're building it that you can visualize it,’ he says.
When he looks back on the moment in Pemberton when he thought Mount Washington should have a similar centre, he says it's difficult to compare the two facilities.
“Ours is modern now; it's brand new. It's different architecturally. I think it's one of the nicest buildings on the Island from that perspective, and adds to the uniqueness of Mount Washington.’
“The fact that the Centre is being used by a diverse amount of groups is also gratifying,’ he adds.
Morson had the opportunity to share his pride in the Mountain Centre last summer when he hosted a CIBC Wood Gundy client event, which included a cooking demonstration with Kathy Jerritt of Tria Culinary Studio and a guided walk through Paradise Meadows with Steve Smith from the Strathcona Wilderness Institute. “We had enthusiastic feedback on it,’ he said.
Now that the Centre has been up and running for a couple of years, Morson isn't rushing to change the status quo. A camping facility was built beside the Centre in the summer so people will be able to camp next summer.
As for future winter plans? “I would personally like to see us build an ice hotel beside the facility, like they do in Quebec,’ he said.