Some locals call them the ‘paycheque years.’
There was a flurry of construction activity around Revelstoke in the early- to mid-2000s in the run up to the opening of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. The resort was being scratched out of the mountain, and subdivisions were being carved out of woods and etched into the ground.
Your grandpa used to run a bulldozer in the bush? Get him down to the job site – that’s a $50-an-hour skill!
Revelstoke, the thinking went, would follow the Whistler model – a ski resort based on real estate development and sales. The sky was the limit.
Then, the global economic meltdown in 2008, and that model ground to a halt. In fact, the newly-released Resort Municipality Initiative Annual Report by the city’s economic development department found that out-of-town property ownership has barely budged since 2008, increasing by just one per cent from 19 per cent to 20 per cent by 2012. In Sun Peaks, it’s 86 per cent; Whistler’s 76 per cent.
Although the resort real estate model has been hobbled and awaits a macroeconomic turnaround, the marketing machines pitching Revelstoke as a winter adventure destination hasn’t been switched off, and visitors continue to arrive for our unique mountain experiences.
Real estate development continues to stall, but niche tourism developers are finding and creating services and amenities for the new wave of young, mobile adventurers seeking out Revelstoke each year.
We spoke with a few of the many, seeking to highlight the services they are offering, and gain insight into the market.
La Nina Sled Camp
The Boulder Mountain parking lot is where sledders unload their expensive machines from their expensive trucks. It’s a guy scene; an arms race to see who can jack up their truck the highest and add the most aftermarket mods to their sleds.
Revelstoke snowmobile guide Nadine Overwater says that intimidating environment is one of many barriers preventing more women from getting into the sport.
“There are girls that if they wanted to go sledding by themselves, they couldn’t get the sled out of the back of the truck,” she told me. “There’s 200 guys there watching.”
They struggled to keep up with their husbands or boyfriends – usually more experienced riders who brought them to Revelstoke in the first place.
If was off-putting. They went skiing instead, or didn’t come on the trip.
Seeing women-only camps popping up elsewhere, Overwater, who was already guiding here, decided to open La Nina Sled Camp, offering two camps for women.
The response was exceedingly positive; she plans to operate 10 camps this season. I spoke with her on the phone from the Alberta Snowmobile and PowerSports Show.
Guys might not understand, she explained, but women are looking for a different group experience than just riding with the boys.
“Women are always looking for this girl power and united [experience].” Overwater explained. “They get really ramped up when they see each other doing well and progressing.”
Her camps add emphasis to things like lunch, apres-sled meals, repair basics and souvenir photography.
Overwater foresees a successful seasonal operation. Sleds are much easier to operate these days, making them more accessible to smaller riders.
“I think girls are enjoying it more,” she said.
But the barriers to big-mountain riding will remain; terrain, avalanche safety, deep snow. Overwater sees a continued demand to provide guiding for beginners and intermediate riders.
“It’s pretty daunting up there,” she said. “That’s my job; to keep them out there and keep them safe. So far I’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”
Overwater encourages anyone entering the adventure tourism services business to do their homework first. “It’s a huge learning curve,” she said. Running the business, web presence, marketing and social media promotion are as vital as guiding skills.
She also said understanding tenure issues and insurance challenges are key.
Find La Nina Sled Camp on the web and Facebook.
Matt Yaki took the plunge this year, quitting his full-time job to pursue his dream and passion for riding and guiding mountain bikes in the Revelstoke-region mountains.
His company, Wandering Wheels, offers shuttling and a variety of guiding services, but is focused on building a destination guiding service for visiting groups.
It’s gone well so far, Yaki said. July and August were very busy months, when riders from New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the U.S. arrived to try out Revelstoke’s destination alpine rides, which have a very short season.
“That’s definitely where the fun is at and the money is at,” Yaki said.
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PHOTO: Matt Yaki, owner-operator of Revelstoke mountain bike tour company Wandering Wheels, has one season down and hopes to focus on the demand for destination alpine ride tours next season.
The mountain biking infrastructure in Revelstoke has proliferated in the past few years – new trails, new signs, improved trails, new destination trails like Frisby – and Yaki felt Revelstoke needed a guided service like those available at other biking destinations.
“It’s not anything new,” Yaki said. “It might be a new thought to Revelstoke.”
Tourism operators I spoke with made that same observation: it’s not about inventing the wheel, but rather looking at services provided in other adventure destinations and figuring out if there’s sufficient demand here. Being passionate about the service helps greatly.
Yaki said guiding is a “tight market” at this point. Mountain bikers are adventurous spirits to start with, and summer biking doesn’t have the barriers to entry of winter sports.
Yaki hopes to grow by partnering with other tourism operators by providing turnkey packages. The goal is to get visiting riders into two- or three-day experiences booked well in advance.
Like Overwater, Yaki said learning about the tenure system and getting your groundwork prepared are key to success.
“I definitely think there is room to grow,” he said.
Revelstoke Snowshoe Company
Peter Dixon is opening a new, guided snowshoeing service at Revelstoke Mountain Resort this winter, ferrying groups of up to 16 people up the gondola for excursions on the mountain.
A variety of tours are available through the Revelstoke Snowshoe Company. You can take the office on a team-building exercise, play capture the flag, book a school tour or opt for an intense workout experience.
A range of fitness levels are accommodated, and extra experiences are woven in, such as wildlife tracking, local history and winter survival.
“It’s great because anybody can do it,” Dixon said. “It’s a great way to explore winter landscapes. It’s a great family activity.”
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PHOTO: Peter Dixon will be offering snowshoe tours on Revelstoke Mountain Resort for the first time this winter.
Dixon operated the service on Mount Seymour on Vancouver’s North Shore, but opted to relocate here to pursue his dream of living in a mountain town.
“What’s the town missing?” he asked himself, and was surprised to find no snowshoeing tours. “They have dogsledding and paragliding. I was quite surprised no one has done it yet. There’s five snowshoe tour companies in Whistler.”
Dixon worked with resort staff to set up the independent service, linking into their marketing system. Find him at revelstokesnowshoe.ca.
He’s also marketing through Everything Revelstoke, a tour booking and transportation company that opened a new Revelstoke location in downtown Revelstoke this year.
Manager Richard Eden is bullish on tourism opportunities. “There’s a huge scope for people setting up new activities in Revelstoke,” he said, pointing to lots of room for summer services.
“The first season, we did have a huge positive response, mainly because Revelstoke is not known as a summer destination yet,” Eden said. “We have an excellent set of mountain bike trails that not a lot of tourists seem to know about.”
Adventure tourism operations add to the overall tourism business by adding key extra nights to visitors’ stay here.
Eden points out Revelstoke is still missing basic adventure tours commonplace in larger destinations.
“This summer we had a lot of requests for things like horseback riding and ATV tours,” he said.