It’s been almost a year since Rob Elliott took over one of the hardest jobs in Revelstoke.
As the General Manager of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, he balances the hopes, wishes and expectations of a community that made a big bet on a future with a major resort development component.
Elliott has to balance the community’s aspirations with the reality of a Vancouver-controlled development with serious financial constraints ever since the economy tanked in 2009-ish, hitting secondary real estate amongst the hardest.
With real estate still limping badly, where do you go from here?
You define the mission and work towards a united front, explained Elliott.
With local media and an RMR new media developer in tow, we bounced up Mount Mackenzie in Elliott’s mid-life Nissan pickup truck.
“The potential of this place is very significant,” Elliott said.
For now, that means rolling up your sleeves and doing what you can.
Shaved head, tall, with a muscular build still transitioning from his rugby past into his second career as a ski guide, Elliott’s wardrobe of jeans and high-end outdoor jacket straddles the office and the mountain.
As we climb, Elliot notes this summer staff have got behind the wheels of heavy caterpillars and bulldozers, completing the most significant on-mountain work program since the resort opened in 2007.
“Blue skiers is where it’s at,” explains Elliott. First pitched as an alpha-skier haven, early ads emphasized risky, extreme and out-of-bounds. They’ve toned it down somewhat to include the family market. Mount Mackenzie was naturally endowed with black diamonds, but even gnarly skiers like a blue run at the end of the day.
Advanced skiers and riders needn’t despair. They’ve built a ton of new glades on the south face (in Roller Coaster and Hot Sauce, for starters). A new Tally-Ho glade near the Stoke Chair top memorializes fallen skiers.
Another new development is a roughly three-kilometre, unnamed trail that curves back from the Montana Bowl area and hooks up with the Fast Fred’s trail. Carved through the bush as part of a Ministry of Forest firefighters’ training program, it is designed as a last-chance exit trail for the many people who get lost and stranded in the Montana drainage each season (leading to expensive and risky helicopter line rescues.) Ninja Traverse also had serious upgrades.
Elliott estimates they’re doing about $200,000 to $300,000 of work this year. There are lots of new connectors for beginners, and widening of intersections prone to collisions. A new green run below the mid-mountain lodge breaks up the hairpin turns below the overpass.
Over at the North Bowl, more avalanche control gear has gone in again, including a new bomb tram that will help open the back half of the mountain faster.
The lift system is undergoing a major testing regimen this year, including non-destructive safety X-rays of the cables.
Also new, a snowshoeing company has signed up to do tours this year.
Elliott grew up in the Maritimes, moved to Victoria for university, then to Calgary, where he was completing his accounting studies in a glass tower with a view of the Rockies.
He bailed out of corporate life and took up skiing at 30, working his way up to ski-guide. He owned a restaurant in Canmore and worked in the ski industry before relocating to Revelstoke to continue his career here.
PHOTO: A photo-spread of photos from an Aug. 28 tour of summer works on Mount Mackenzie. Aaron Orlando photos
It was his pre-resort Revelstoke roots that caused some relief amongst locals when Elliott’s appointment was announced in November of 2012. After a whirlwind of foreign developers, out-of-town real estate types and out-of-province investors, a community used to handshake deals needed someone they could relate to – someone with a track record.
As we grind the undercarriage on difficult creek beds, we encounter mountain operations manager Mike Verwey, who’s in falling gear. With all the glading and bucking, “It’s like Donkey Kong,” he warns us – use the radio.
Elliott explains some of the other new developments. At the base, a bus turnaround below the Sutton Place Hotel is planned to deal with growing traffic. They’re working on a patio licence for the main plaza next to the Rockford restaurant. A Northlands Properties restaurant management group is now overseeing all restaurant operations. They’ve got an overhaul planned for the Rockford and Wino.
Elliott doesn’t have the exact details on the changes, but said the effort is focused on a more down-homey, realistically apres-ski experience.
I’ve driven the main road up Mount Mackenzie before, but Elliott is determined to take his mid-sized pickup (with four men in it) up some of the gnarlier, washed-out goat tracks. The aroma of alpine evergreen is punctuated with the smell of clutch and brake. A marmot lays attentively in the road; a Goshawk snatches up a rabbit and flies into the trees.
Last year, skier numbers were off slightly from the previous all-time high. (RMR doesn’t share them.) RMR had about six peak-capacity days of about 3,550 skiers. They’ll be exploring options to deal with the peak line-ups in the near future. More chairs and gondolas for the existing lines are expensive. Passes with alternating start times are an option to deal with the morning line-up. (8:30 a.m. on evens, 9 a.m. for odds, depending on your pass number, but that’s just an idea.)
We come across an excavator scooping out a new connector; he’s blocked the road with slash. Elliott, who worked as a production logger at RMR during its development, grabs his hard-hat and Husqvarna from the box and fires it up. We pile back in after he threads the narrow path past.
Speaking of narrow paths, Elliott said a shuttle system to destination alpine trail mountain biking is an idea being tossed around for next summer.
Back at the base, the Monashee Estates has a new curb to the end of the slope-side cul-de-sac. A U.S. buyer is ready for the sauna installation in the first luxury home. You’ll be able to see it if you look left a minute after the gondola leaves the base.
The ongoing battle between the City of Revelstoke and RMR over the physical development of infrastructure, properties and buildings at the base of RMR has spilled over into the public realm several times in the past years.
“At the start, it was a bad state,” he concedes. He’s tried to adapt to the demands of the job and the situation he’s inherited. “It’s a learning thing to me.”
Elliott said RMR and the City have had conciliatory talks in the past months, and hopes to move forward, working on that “united front.” That includes community partners off all stripes, from tourism promoters down to everyday residents. And the media of all stripes. “We’ve got to keep this story out there that we’ve got this dream resort,” Elliott said.
There’s more tentative plans for this year and next. Some are just rumours, others too premature to mention at this point – maybe we’ll update again just before the lifts spin.
The message from the invitation tour is pretty clear though. RMR is trying to be itself and play the cards its been dealt, but it’s moving forward, and grinding it out for now.
Elliott explains it’s about being the resort it is, not trying to be something it isn’t – but it still has aspirations and dreams.