Critics urge Jumbo developer to focus on Valemount

Unlike the controversial Kootenay development, a year-round glacier ski resort in B.C.'s Premier Mountain range has strong community support

Oberto Oberti is stickhandling development for two ski resorts in eastern B.C.: Jumbo Glacier and Valemount Glacier (pictured)

Critics of the Jumbo Glacier Resort (JGR) want project manager Oberto Oberti to abandon plans for a controversial ski resort in B.C.'s Kootenay region and focus instead on a second resort that Oberti wants to build farther north, near Valemount.

Unlike the approved Jumbo Glacier Resort, which faces both strong opposition and a judicial review from the Ktunaxa Nation Council, a proposed resort in the Premier Mountain range near Valemount has strong community support yet has garnered few headlines.

"If you get told by the community in one area that they want you and in the other there are deep divisions with a large chunk of the population against the proposal, it would seem to me to make sense to focus on the area where you have the support," NDP tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert told Business in Vancouver.

Ktunaxa Nation Council chairwoman Kathryn Teneese also wants Oberti to make Valemount a priority.

"The First Nation who is close to the proximity of the Valemount proposal [Simpcw First Nation] has indicated support and sees a resort as an economic opportunity," she said. "All the power to them."

Oberti submitted a formal proposal in September with the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations' resort development branch to build the Valemount Glacier Resort (VGR).

His plan is to first build the Jumbo Glacier Resort, which faced two decades of legal and regulatory delays and roadblocks before the provincial government approved it in March.

VGR faces a co-ordinated review by a provincial agency along with local governments and First Nations. If those groups provide positive comments about the proposal, VGR representatives will likely be able to sign an interim agreement with the provincial government and then draft and submit a master plan, which could be approved as early as spring 2014. Construction could then start by mid-2015.

But abandoning Jumbo is out of the question for Oberti, who stressed to BIV that he has a responsibility to Jumbo's investors to build that project.

Nikken Canada Holdings Ltd. was a founding investor in Jumbo, while other, newer investors have maintained a low profile.

"I don't know how I can drop one client group in favour of another, especially when I worked for the one group for so long and at such great cost," Oberti said. "As a minimum, I would have to find a way to repay the investment, which I cannot do without the project going ahead."

JGR and VGR are both in eastern B.C., but they target slightly different target markets. VGR is close to Jasper and will target Edmontonians. JGR is closer to Banff and would draw skiers primarily from Calgary.

Both potential resorts offer year-round skiing on high-alpine glaciers. Summer skiing in B.C. is currently accessible only with a helicopter.

Oberti winced when asked if he was courting investors. He believes JGR is known worldwide and can attract investment dollars on its own. It is too early to seek money for VGR, he said.

Oberti did, however, meet earlier this year in B.C. with executives at France-based Compagnie des Alpes, which owns ski resorts in France, Italy and Switzerland.

Stephen Leahy, the chairman and CEO of Vancouver-based North American Tungsten Corp., (TSXV:NTC) confirmed to BIV that he has personally helped bankroll efforts to get the VGR project through early obstacles and that he plans to continue to invest in the project.

Leahy likes that the community backs VGR and that the proposal is less ambitious than JGR (see sidebar, right).

"Valemount also offered an opportunity to get in on the ground floor," said Leahy, who initially put cash behind that project about two years ago.

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