experts: real estate column Thursday, December 09, 2004

Resort to Resorts

As the province builds towards the 2010 Olympics there are some jewels in the string of ski resorts that now dot peaks from the Coastal Mountains to the Rockies.

By Ozzie Jurock

When the New York Times featured a Canadian Ski Resort on its front page on October 6, 2004 it wasn't Banff, Jasper or Mont Blanc, but Fernie. When the BC Government announced a first step in the approval of a $450 million investment on October 14, 2004 it wasn't an expansion at Whistler or Sun Peaks but a new resort - Jumbo Glacier near Invermere. In fact, investment in ski resorts in BC has come fast and furious from Europe and the United States in the last 3 years.

In fact, the British Columbia government appointed MLA Sandy Santori, the former Mayor of Trail, to head up the BC Resort Task Force, whose primary objective is to "promote resort development through the identification and elimination of the barriers to investment, development and expansion': To this end, the Task Force has criss-crossed the province, meeting with local governments, Native Bands and developers, and has put a number of projects on a fast track.

So, dear real estate investor, where's the track heading? Follow the money.

Investment in Ski resorts is never good if there is only a parking lot and a lift. However, when money is put into ski lifts, mountain improvements and more, bring out your cheque book and press hard. Sun Peaks near Kamloops has now seen some $300 million or more in investment, Fernie and Kimberley near Cranbrook some $400 million, and the result is new hotels, new slopes, new lifts and new, much more expensive, real estate.

The appreciation and rental income at some - and we emphasize some - of the 700 resorts in BC has been spectacular over the past few years. Condos at Sun Peaks and Big White now routinely top $250,000 and the million-dollar house is now common at Whistler, for instance.

And as the province builds towards the 2010 Olympics there are some jewels in the string of ski resorts that now dot peaks from the Coastal Mountains to the Rockies. Judging from response five months after the initiative was released, US and European investors have been among the most aggressive in taking advantage of BC's fast track, open door policy. And some wise investors can follow their lead.

In April Mount Baldy in the South Okanagan (4 hours from Vancouver) sold to US investors from Idaho. Last September, Red Mountain in the Kootenays was bought by a California-based buyer. The master plan for the small Crystal Mountain resort near Kelowna and expansions of such obscure Cariboo spots as Canoe Mountain near Valemount and Saddle Mountain near Blue River are indications of what is happening.

Mount Baldy Expansion:

Over the next four years the US owners plan to increase skiable terrain and lift capacity from approximately 1,460 vertical feet and 600 acres to over 2,000 vertical feet and more than 2,000 skiable acres, including access to two previously untouched summits, Northeast Bowl and Southwest Bowl. Estimated cost of the improvements is US$30 million.

Red Mountain near Rossland

US entrepreneur Howard Katkov and a US/Canadian investor group bought Red Mountain Resorts Inc., which owns the Red Mountain Ski Resort, five minutes from Rossland in the Kootenays. The purchase has pumped fresh money into a mountain that has long attracted advanced skiers and investors from across the US border, which is only 10 minutes away. A new ski-in/ski-out chalet development by Red Mountain Properties sold out 35 units at $220,000 each last year, the fourth such sell-out in two years. Most of the buyers are Americans. There are also new chalet units and condominiums in two projects near the base of the mountain that are scheduled for completion this summer and fall. Expect prices in the quarter-million-dollar range. (Visit www.redmountainchalets.com)

Kicking Horse near Golden

About 14 km from Golden, BC, Kicking Horse is emerging as a major ski resort, attracting international attention under the deep-pocket guidance of Dutch conglomerate Ballast Nedam (the same company behind the Confederation Bridge to Prince area, Edward Island). Ballast Nedam has already spent $50 million at the resort and may pump $400 million into a build-out plan timed to finish in 2010. The ski mountain is the highest in North America and has a quad lift that can carry 1,000 skiers per hour to the 8,033 ft summit. And the resort's new gondola, the Golden Eagle Express, transports skiers and diners to the Eagle's Eye, voted the "mountain resort restaurant of the year" two years running by Good Skiing & Snowboarding Guide.

Mount MacKenzie near Revelstoke

A Fast Track master plan for Mt. Mackenzie near Revelstoke represents just under $270 million in capital investment and an estimated 6,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs. A private-sector company, Downie Timber Ltd. is currently working on the master plan that will transform the small community ski facility into a modern all-season resort development known as Powder Springs. The development calls for 16,600 "bed units"; 110 ski and snowboard trails and 25 lifts that can carry 17,050 skiers up the hill every day, plus an 18-hole golf course.

Crystal Mountain near Kelowna

Crystal Mountain is today a small ski hill that runs December through March with three lifts and a day lodge. But developer David Tschanz, of Lenzerheide Valbella, Switzerland, has big plans for the mountain - a 10-year plan for a year-round resort. Last August Crystal Mountain launched its Master Development Agreement, representing a $110 million in capital investment that will provide an expected 3,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs by the time of completion.

Canoe Mountain, Valemount

Last December an agreement to develop a $100 million all-season resort on Crown land just outside Valemount in the Cariboo was signed by Canoe Mountain Resorts Inc. and Land and Water British Columbia Inc., represented by the BC Resort Task Force. The deal includes the developer, Sunrise International, and the town of Valemount. The Agreement formalized the Terms of Use of Crown land, including the purchase of 340 acres for the base area that will be used for residential, hotel, commercial and golf course development. An additional 3,000 acres of Crown land will be tenured for an eight-passenger gondola - said to be the longest in North America - that will lift visitors to the ski hill summit.

Saddle Mountain near Blue River

Blue River is situated at the northern end of the North Thompson Valley, 210 kilometres north of Kamloops. With a population of less than 450, it is a former logging town where the main claim to fame is world class hardcore helicopter skiing. Last year, the BC Resort Task Force approved a master plan for Saddle Mountain near Blue River with a capital investment of $150 million. A new ski hill will be complementary to the existing helicopter ski operation in the area.

So, if you have been looking at investing in a BC ski resort area now is the time to be looking for property and, fortunately, the provincial government has done a lot of the leg work for you. Not all of these resorts are guaranteed winners. The competition for the ski dollar is fierce and the expense of setting up ski lifts and amenities is often reflected in Vancouver-level housing prices. Also, the resort must have the potential of all-season activities and not just winter skiing to offer rental income potential.

Ozzie Jurock leads the Real Estate Action Group out of Vancouver and can be found at oz@jurock.com and www.reag.ca




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Related Links:

Red Mountain Resorts Inc.

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