For Creeker Bob Everett, the future of economic viability for the hamlet lies in the ability for residents, weekenders and tourists to schuss down a mountain.
Everett is referring to the defunct ski hill located in the Bragg Creek community of Wintergreen, which has been closed since 2003 and is under the ownership of Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) – the operators of the Wintergreen Golf & Country Club.
He is perturbed that he was not able to present the case for the potential opportunities the peak would provide at the Nov. 28 public for the commercial-residential community being proposed by RCR – as he was not given any notice about the public hearing.
He is looking to get the word out that now is the time for council and taxpayers both to question how they envision the future of Division 1, and he remains convinced that the RCR proposal is laden with mistakes and is missing one particular critical component – the revival of the ski hill.
“Their development is based solely on greed and maximizing return on their investment,” said Everett, a business owner, 35-year resident and former county councillor who is not himself a skier.
“Rocky View made a huge mistake not circulating this to the entire community … that thing needs to go back to the drawing board 10 times,” he said, citing additional concerns that include density, transportation, slope stability, storm water management and secondary and emergency accesses.
The three water licences, two for potable use and one for snowmaking, held jointly by RCR and the Wintergreen Woods Water Utility, account for a total 250,700 m3/year. Full build-out of the community would put the demand for water up to 250,580 m3/year – usage Everett views as dangerously approaching capacity.
He is also concerned about tentative plans for sewer water treatment, which is estimated at 133,170 m3/year of effluent at full build out. He said the spray irrigation will cause contaminant issues going back into the river and also foresse problems tying into the Creek’s existing water treatment plant.
Council voted against moving the development forward in November, in favour of plan adjustments such as addressing the requisite secondary egress into Wintergreen. The plan is coming back to council Jan. 23.
Once a thriving tourist draw that reached initial success as Lyon Mountain in 1982, the ski hill was a busy recreational spot with four lifts and 11 runs, built by Bob Lyon.
According to Everett, the province dragged Lyon through the ringer and wound up under-delivering funding, which spiraled into an eventual shut down of the hill.
Everett said to this day he remembers Lyon as a “visionary man” and added that he “was sickened” at how Lyon was treated by Alberta Opportunities.
The history of who operated the hill once it went into receivership in the 1980s is unclear, but the Skiing Louise Group eventually took ownership of the hill for a number of years until the group went insolvent. The RCR was formed in 2002 and shut down the hill the following year.
Jonn Teghtmeyer was raised in Bragg Creek and learned to ski at the Wintergreen hill.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity to bring tourism, jobs and potentially young families into the area,” said Teghtmeyer, noting the limited amenities for families with children.
“No one has ever approached us with the idea of wanting to re-open it,” said Patrick Majer, utility and resort development manager for RCR.
Majer said from a cost perspective, reopening the ski hill is impractical. With the competition in the region, Majer said this factored into the decision to shut down the hill. The RCR operates nearby Nakiska Ski Resort in the Kananaskis.
He also said that the southeast exposure of the ski hill poses challenges.
Majer said his team has been working with county administration and will be presenting again to council next week, with the hopes of receiving third and final reading to get the green light that would pave the way for the market-dependent build-out of the community – estimated to take 15 to 20 years.
On top of minor revisions to the plan, Majer said the hotel component, which is more of a bed-and-breakfast, boutique-style hotel has been pared back to 50 units from 100.
He said that “much progress” is being made on the conceptual plans for the roadway and secondary emergency egress, as well as the water and sewer.
“It seems like it’s going around that there’s a proposal for a big, massive development in the centre of this plan and that’s not what’s happening,” said Majer.
The Bragg Creek Chamber of Commerce is supportive of the RCR proposal, as is former area councillor Liz Breakey.
Coun. Mark Kamachi spoke previously with the Cochrane Eagle regarding his vote against moving forward last fall with the development.
“You commit to the community first – so fix that road,” he said, referring to the safety concerns posed about Wintergreen Road, with no shoulders. Kamachi said he wanted revisions made to the plan he views as “too open-ended” and as posing too much risk to the ratepayers.
The residential and village core components of the plan include “no more than 300 residential units in total” and a mix of housing styles from single-family to villa-style to three-acre parcels in the residential area. The village core includes up to 24 row-housing units, 10,000 square feet of commercial spaces and 100 hotel units (being brought down to 50).
Everett is encouraging Creekers to get in touch with county administration or Division 1 Coun. Mark Kamachi to voice their concerns, ahead of next Tuesday’s council meeting.