REVELSTOKE, CANADA — The curtain will come down April 27 on the first ski season at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, a new $1-billion, four-season development on British Columbia's Mt. Mackenzie that opened in December. But already speculation about the resort's recreation potential is firing imaginations and fueling a vacation-home real estate boom among people eager to stake an investment in British Columbia's first major resort development in decades.
At a time when ski resorts are bracing for the warming of the planet, Revelstoke is wagering that the area's legendary snowfall -- which earned it a reputation as a world-class heli-skiing destination -- will draw revelers to this Canadian Rockies playground, not just in winter but year round.
And as such playgrounds go, Revelstoke seems drawn from fantasy. The massive, 8,058-foot-tall mountain, blessed annually with about 50 feet of dry powder, looms over a 19th century railroad town on the Columbia River. About 5,600 vertical feet of lift-served skiing joins snowcat and heli-skiing operations that offer access to an additional half-million acres. During summer, an adjacent national park offers miles of hiking and mountain-bike trails, fishing and canoeing. And naturally, a golf course is planned.
Revelstoke's developers expect their vision will take 15 years to realize. The resort's base, about 3 1/2 miles outside the town of Revelstoke, will eventually include shops and restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, summer gondola rides, a network of hiking and mountain-bike trails and a village heli-center.
But this season was off to an impressive start: An eight-person gondola, a high-speed quad and a double chairlift allowed 4,735 vertical feet of skiing on 27 trails. More chairlifts are expected for next winter's season, including a $6-million extension of the gondola. When it's completed, Revelstoke will eclipse Whistler-Blackcomb with North America's longest lift-served vertical drop.
Revelstoke's terrain favors advanced skiers, but next winter's new chairlifts should please beginner and intermediate skiers. Ultimately, the resort will have 20 chairlifts and more than 120 runs.
As early as the 1960s, British Columbia recognized Mt. Mackenzie, with steep, varied terrain and covered almost entirely in trees from the Columbia River to its summit, as ripe for a megaresort.
But big development plans never materialized, and all that existed for years was a small beginner area, Powder Springs, operated by the town of Revelstoke.
In 2005, four partners, including Denver housing developer Don Simpson, finally stepped up with a master plan and the $22 million needed to build the current lifts.
For now, visitors must stay in town in a handful of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that cater to a year-round flow of heli-skiers, snowmobilers and road trippers along the Trans-Canada Highway, which passes through Revelstoke.
In the next decade, the resort plans to roll out 2,000 hotel suites, 1,500 condos, 850 town houses and 500 single-family lots around the base. Already, homeowners are snapping up those phantom properties. Luxury condos in the base area's Nelsen Lodge buildings sold out within hours in October and again in March, and most of the 25 single-family lot estates, priced from $695,000 to $1.35 million with zoning for private helipads, have been sold, bringing total home sales to more than $100 million.
Speculation over the resort and the area's growing appeal for snowmobiling and summer recreation has also ignited a real estate boom in Revelstoke, where prices for the low-key logging and mining town's charming Victorians recently doubled. "We've sold more lots in the last year than in the 14 years I've been in real estate," said Cynthia Kidd, who owns Re/Max Revelstoke Realty.
Susan and David Burwen of Mountain View, Calif., are among those getting in early. After friends tipped them last year about the new resort, the couple laid down a deposit for a 1,200-square-foot luxury condo, sight unseen, with views of the Columbia and the surrounding Monashee Mountains.
"We think it's definitely going to live up to our expectations," Susan said from Revelstoke, after their second day of skiing. "The mountain has a lot of variety. It doesn't yet have a huge feeling of being a resort, but more like an authentic old-time place."
"Authenticity" is what resort developers are pushing, hoping that Revelstoke's low-key vibe -- its mom-and-pop businesses along the main street and its transcontinental-railroad history -- will attract those alienated by the commercialized atmosphere of Whistler, a resort town built virtually from scratch.
As Revelstoke's chief operating officer, Rod Kessler, said: "We didn't have to create what we have here."
REVELSTOKE MOUNTAIN RESORT
The resort's current season runs through April 27. For more information: (866) 373-4754, www.revelstokemountain resort.com. Lift tickets $56 for an adult.