After months of rumour and obvious run clearing activity, this Fall Red Mountain Resort formally announced their planned lift and terrain expansion onto Grey Mountain. The press release and associated promotional video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3z97E9HSSY&feature=plcp pump it up in the hyperbolic style as is usual for such things.
Red’s current owners have always been transparent in their ambition to transform what has always been an obscure community ski hill with potential, into a thriving destination resort. Inspired by the decades long orgy of real estate speculation and easy profits now relegated to history, they’ve experimented with all manner of initiatives to stimulate interest. My imperfect memory registers Slalom Creek, a proposed Valencia hotel, the Silverlode expansion, it’s just “Red”, the proposed golf course expansion, Caldera, TMP, Elevate, “Stupid Deep”, glading/logging on Mt Roberts, White Wolf Ridge and Mt Grey, the Lodge expansion and upgrade, the “Gathering”, Captain Jack’s, a Backcountry Yurt, Skier Cross, and the Red Haus, but as evidenced by the continuing flat number of skier visits and anemic real-estate sales, they’re yet to find a winning formula.
In this context the Grey Mountain expansion is the latest and most ambitious attempt to stimulate interest and kick-start development at Red. Community cynics are yet to be convinced that it’ll come to anything beyond logging, but all signs point to them being sincere in their intention to install two new lifts servicing 1000 acres of new cleared and gladed terrain.
It’s not going to be another Granite, although depending on your perspective this might be a good thing. It’ll lack the long fall-line steeps and variety of unique terrain and tree features that make skiing Granite such an endlessly challenging and stimulating experience for the current clientele, but of course we’ll still have Granite. Designed to a formula followed by every other high end resort expansion for the past 30 years, most of the skiing on Grey will feel a lot like all those other resorts – interweaving groomed runs and evenly spaced glade skiing on moderate terrain, and Red will be hoping it draws in the same crowd. I’ve heard the negative opinions of the arm-chair experts, and spouted a few of my own, but when looking up from the bottom of the recently cut ski runs, the magnitude of the expansion really is impressive, and there’s no denying that we’re going to have a huge new area of fun ski terrain to play on. I toured up Rino’s Run today, and blanketed in powder, the new lines looked enticing.
However the question remains as to whether or not the expansion will stimulate the hoped for increase in operating and real-estate income. My personal investment history demonstrates little prescience, but I’m well aware of the particular challenges with which local development must contend. Red Mountain is remote and inconvenient to get to and from during the winter, snow falls are adequate but lack in comparison with the big hitters, and no-one has found a way to sell “terrain”. The base-area is devoid of amenities and character, downtown lacks retail and nightlife options, local construction costs are extravagant, the City treats the Resort as a means to subsidize residents, the high Canadian dollar and increased border security are disincentives to American visitors, our prohibition era liquor laws handicap festivity and sap profitability, and a unionized workplace limits operational flexibility. If Red can overcome all these, a weak international economy, flat or depreciating real-estate values in most markets, and still find a way to selling many millions of dollars worth of recreational real estate, then they amply deserve their success.