Mount Washington resort sold to U.S. firm

Mount Washington Alpine Resort is now in the hands of an American company known for residential and hotel developments, and for embracing artificial snow.

The 36-year-old resort near Courtenay has been purchased by U.S.- based Pacific Group Resorts, Inc. Included in the sale are all ski and recreational operations and most of the development land near and around its base.

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The new owners’ Utah-based parent company, Pacific Group, has developed communities with residential units and hotels at other resort destinations.

“It would be premature to talk about [development] other than I would say look at their websites and see what they’ve done in other areas,” said Peter Gibson, president of Mount Washington Alpine Resort.

“It’s premature to speculate, the priority is to let’s get open.” Dec. 11 is the scheduled opening day.

With Mount Washington, Pacific Group Resorts (PGRI) now operates four ski and snowboard resorts and four golf courses. Pacific Group has built real estate projects in places such as Whistler and Squaw Valley in California.

Terms of the Mount Washington deal were not disclosed.

Commercial real estate firm CBRE Victoria listed the property in 2013. The deal was two years in the making, said CBRE vice-president Chris Rust. He said there was no listing price and there were multiple offers early on, though closing a deal after two bad ski seasons complicated things.

The sale means the end of a 25-year run for a group of shareholders led by George Stuart.

“The existing ownership group since 1989 have put $60 million into the resort, they are now in their 70s, they have taken it to a great new level and it’s now time for them to move on and have someone else come in and take it to a whole new level,” said Gibson, who has been at the resort since founders Henry Norie and Alex Linton started it in 1979.

Gibson said the last two years, when Mount Washington had tough years with shortened seasons due to lack of snow, did not factor into the sale.

PGRI resorts pride themselves on their snowmaking abilities, and that will be a new component for Mount Washington, which has always relied on the skies.

“They have three areas in the eastern U.S. that almost exclusively survive on snowmaking, so they will bring that expertise in,” Gibson said.

Two snow guns have been ordered and will be functional when the resort opens to give people a sense of what they can do.

“It’s a small number in terms of what will be needed but it’s to show we can make snow here,” he said. “What’s happening in North America is resorts are putting it in, not to get through a bad year but to guarantee an opening date.

“If we can say in the first week of December, ‘book for Christmas and New Year, the holiday season is guaranteed’ that will make a huge difference for us and give a little bit of certainty to our customers.”

PGRI’s Wintergreen Resort in Virginia says its snowmaking system with more than 400 snowguns and 45 weather stations could cover a football field with 37 feet of snow in 24 hours.

Gibson said staffing at Mount Washington will not change. The resort employs about 700 full- and part-time workers at the peak of the season.

Dianne Hawkins, chief executive of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce, says “there will be some changes and adjustments for all of us, but I understand the resort is excited about what the new owners will bring to the market.

“It’s a large [economic] piece for us; once the snow starts to fall and the mountain opens it generates a lot of investment in our community, the hotels fill up, people go for spa treatments, go for dinners, buy gas.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com.

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