Luigi Aquilini and Bob Gaglardi put aside a years-old dispute to cooperate on what could be Canada’s first new ski resort in 40 years. (Illustration by Andy Friedman)
In 1860, a British naval officer, G.H. Richards, was tasked with surveying the coast of Howe Sound, the fjord just north of what would become Vancouver. Dominating the head of the inlet was a 2,678-metre-high mountain perpetually swathed in snow and ice. Disregarding the local Squamish people’s name for the landmark—Chuckigh, meaning “dirty snow”—Richards labelled this most northern of the Cascade volcanoes Mount Garibaldi, after the dashing general Giuseppe Garibaldi, who at that point was leading the fight to unify Italy for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire.
In 1927, the name would be extended to a provincial park covering most of the mountain and the alpine wilderness behind it. Wolfgang Richter, whose adult life has been inextricably tied to the mountain, smiles at the symbolism. “Nobody in B.C. knows who Garibaldi was,” he says. “Italians know. That’s got a lot to do with why these people are involved in this project, I would say.”
By “these people,” Richter means two Italian-Canadian billionaires: Luigi Aquilini and Bob Gaglardi. The pair represents the money behind a $3.5-billion resort proposal that took a huge step toward realization this year after four decades of frustration. On January 29 2016, the B.C. government granted their joint venture, Garibaldi at Squamish Inc., its long-sought environmental certificate—removing the largest hurdle to what would be the first entirely new ski hill built in North America since 1981.
There are still challenges: residents downstream, the District of Squamish, the rival resort of Whistler Blackcomb and deteriorating skier demographics. The biggest challenge, though, might be a festering blood feud between the proponents’ own sons, who one day will likely assume control from the 83- and 75-year-old patriarchs.
To get to the site of this fraught project, you have to drive a few minutes north of modern-day Squamish, where the Sea-to-Sky Highway begins its ascent toward Whistler. You park in a pull-off to a gated logging road that switchbacks up Brohm Ridge, a shoulder of Mount Garibaldi that pokes out from the park. You then need to hike or mountain bike through the second-growth alder and hemlock to a shelf just above the 1,000-metre contour. Here Garibaldi at Squamish Inc., jointly controlled by Aquilini Investment Group and the Gaglardi family’s Northland Properties, intends to build a village featuring 1,500 hotel rooms and upwards of 2,000 private residences. Radiating from it will be 23 lifts. In addition to the construction activity over a 20-year build-out, the operation is forecast to create more than 4,000 permanent jobs and $160 million in GDP per year.
The idea stretches back to the 1960s, when an Austrian dreamer attempted to run a gondola straight from the highway to the top of Brohm Ridge. He got as far as laying a concrete foundation for the base towers, now overgrown with brush, before his venture ran out of money. Wolfgang Richter was in his early 20s and living in Victoria when his German uncle, Henry Roethel, asked him to check out the site. It was April 1978 and pouring rain. Over three days camped out on the ridge, though, Richter saw what an enormous mountain lay behind the clouds. “It’s pretty awesome and daunting up there,” he says. On his recommendation, Roethel began talks with the provincial government about developing a resort.
For builders, it was a simpler time. There was no environmental assessment process to go through nor any consideration for courting the favour of the Squamish Nation, on whose unceded traditional territories the resort would lie. Instead, it was a matter of negotiating with the provincial Ministry of Forests to free up the land. The B.C. government was eager to restart the aborted project—“it was a white elephant situation,” Richter says—and diversify the economy. The province had already green-lighted the development of Blackcomb Mountain, opposite Whistler, and a master-planned village that could accommodate 50,000 visitors between the two.
But before financing could be assembled, a global recession intervened…
Read the rest of the story directly from the source: Canadian Business by Michael McCullough
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