An Interview with Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) Proponent, Wolfgang Richter

Wolfgang Richter has nourished a dream for the last 35 years: A four season ski resort on Brohm Ridge. Now, more than three decades later, that dream might just morph into reality.  In an interview with Gagandeep Ghuman, Wolfgang Richter, founder and vice-president of Garibaldi at Squamish, traces the chequered history of a project that has become synonymous with his name.

Q. Tell me a bit about yourself?

A. Well, I grew up in Victoria, where my father was a teacher and my mother worked as a food supervisor. At UViC, I started the ski club, and I was very active in skiing, and Whistler was here and we would come whenever we could get off the island.

Q. What has been the arc of your career? richter-online

A. I have some entrepreneurial skills and I’m quite creative, but I needed a job and a career. I had an uncle who was going to sponsor me for law school, but then I did a one year course and taught for three years as a junior and a senior high school teacher in Delta and North Vancouver schools.

When I couldn’t stand the system anymore, I joined the National Film Board as an educational media consultant, basically on using film and media in the classroom. I also worked in Ottawa and then worked for the Olympic Games in Montreal. I worked there for about six months, and it was fascinating experience.  Later, I got involved with the Quebec film industry, and when I came back to B.C., I started the BC Film Commission from zero and it’s about a billion and a half dollar industry now. It was a hard thing to do. 

Q. What are the beginnings of Garibaldi at Squamish ?

A, Well, to begin with there was a rumour that some Austrian guy was building or going to build the resort and it was going to happen and his concept was to build it from the Highway to the top, same concept as Whistler, but he failed. 

In 1978, I came back from the Montreal and lived in Victoria, but after a while I couldn’t handle the BC film bureaucracy and I was done after a year, because I’m too much of an entrepreneur.

In 1978, I went up the Garibaldi Mountain for the first time with my uncle. I was there for three days in the cabins from the old development, and a government person lived there in the cabinet there. I went back and my uncle said this is phenomenal and we should put some investors together and start up the old development.

“Where is the brain and the heart of the people who oppose this (GAS).”

Q, What happened after that?

A, Well, that was a 33 years old skier dreaming, and here we are 35 years later, and it doesn’t happen so fast. But I’d like to see it in my lifetime, thank you very much.

One of the words I use is a James Bond word called reconnaissance, which means information gathering, when you do a resort that is 8,000 acres, that is bigger than your backyard, and there are layers of knowledge.

So, the three years, from 1978 to 81, we spent collecting and creating that knowledge, and then we had the first oil crisis, it was a major melt down at least as big as 2007.  We shelved it for three years, and we applied again in 1987 and the government reinvigorated my proponent rights.

By 1989, we had our act together and I had a deal with Aquilini and Bosa and we put together a plan. We submitted it, and then the NDP got into power and it was rejected. We resubmitted and it was approved in 1996 as the result of a community driven public proposal call.

In 1996, I opened an office, and for better or worse, as I received the winning the proponents status, we now had a provincial environment assessment act which mean now you have to apply for the environment process.

In 1998, we completed the first stage of the EA process was completed with terms of reference with no show stoppers.

We ran into trouble with the Squamish Nation, but now we have settled with them, and now we are completing the remaining work of the verification of a water source.

“I can’t believe that people don’t look up at that mountain and say, I could be skiing up there.”

Q, What about some of the environmental concerns voiced by people ?

A, You know, where is the brain and the heart of the people who oppose this. They leave their town, spend money on whistler, and spend gas going there, when they could drive up the hill and work here, and the kids could ski here and have jobs here.

They could have both, I mean if the project is viable, it will be build, if not then it won’t be build, and if it’s built, I think you should be happy that it’s people working here rather than whistler or Vancouver.

There are four varieties of ski shops, mom and pop, local, regional and international, and if we have to build this, we better be competitive and unique.

You want to compete with the biggest guy, don’t try to get bigger, get better, it’s almost like a competition, if you are racing with a best guy, you are going to be a good runner. And maybe we can think of something that is better.

Q, What about the water?

A, Well, we did the water drilling, and we had already done the test, we had done enough studies to prove we have the water, but they said you have to drill, and prove it, to the extent of drilling. Now, we have another extension till next June to get the rest of it done, and that entails ongoing water studies, and anther list of things. They give you one list and it’s a draft, and they take another list that twice is long.

Q: Some people belief that if GAS is incorporated within the district boundaries, district will have to provide services that will outweigh the benefit of taxes. What do you think?

A: I would say this is all a matter of discussion and careful negotiation. With the district and community already on the hook for millions because of the Oceanfront Development and the Adventure Center, I can appreciate the sensitivity…

The reality is that we have the advantage of being joined at the hip in terms of our boundary overlap and, according to Corinne Lonsdale and her review of the past five decades of Squamish history, the reason the district boundaries extend as far north as they do is, in fact, because of the previous failed mountain resort development in the 60s, which was conceived as having lift only access that started at the highway.

At the end of the day, I don’t see it as a problem and a tremendous opportunity: in fact, given that the Municipality of Squamish is already called a “District”, for whatever reason, perhaps the Garibaldi (at Squamish) mountain resort community might end up being designated as a special development (and enterprise) zone within the district.

The lawyers will have a lot of fun drawing up the paperwork.

Q, So, will Garibaldi at Squamish happen, what is next ?

A, I used to do that all the time, being an optimist I’d forecast what was possible. I’m, doing it again, and I must have some reason, so how can we get it done in the next 18 months, how can we get it done. If it’s in construction in 2015, we have to finish off our EI, we get the certificate in the next three months, then we can talk to the district, we can do our master plan, I want to get the environment certificate out of the way, I want to get on with the next stage and I want to be finishing our master plan this fall, so we can submit it and have it finalized by next summer.

Q, You have been at it for so long, what is your motivation?

A, Well, I want to finish it, and by that I mean I want to get it started, when it’s started, most of my job would be finished. I’m like a lot of immigrants; they see things that the locals don’t see.

I’m driving around Squamish, and I can’t believe that people don’t look up at that mountain and say, I could be skiing up there. And I’ve been on it for all these years, and I have a good grasp of the mountain and the community.

What really excites me is that things are possible, and for me the new world is in the west, from California to B.C. This is where the new world pioneering is possible.

 

 

Comments

  1. Jack says:

    Best of luck. I would love to see local jobs and development for our town. We need to see Something Done!

  2. Jeannie says:

    Living in Paradise Valley where GAS plans to extract the water from, I still have my concerns wether there’s enough water. The drilling took place for 4 or 5 days, just over the minimum amount suggested but not the 10 days recommended by govt authorities. This was done during days of torrential rainfall at a time when the aquafir is constantly being recharged (February). This aquafir has been known to run dry up after experiencing times of extended hot weather periods, usually in October. There has been no testing by GAS at that time.

    I am curious about the statement Mr Richter stated about being in competition with the big guys: is 12,000 bed units seriously considered better? Personally, I don’t buy into skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb any more, in fact it’s been years since I skied there. I prefer the smaller hills to the south and, if GAS where a smaller, more intImate ski hill I would definitely support it , provided they passed all the environmental points and checks. I would love to see a ski hill at Garibaldi, just not at the expense of our water source or the environment.

  3. Dave says:

    I agree with Jeannie in all that she says but I would like to strongly re-iterate what she has written about the timing of the aquifer testing.
    I therefore challenge Mr. Richter concerning this: WHY WAS THE TESTING NOT DONE AT THE DRIEST TIME OF THE YEAR???
    Looks like a “snow job” to me…(so to speak)! And y’all, don’t buy the romantic story of his life-long love of skiing as the prime motivator…The whole point of this project is to make money on real estate.
    Our increasing climate change trend will surely render his supposed dream toward the “downward slope” in the not so distant future…(so to speak)!

  4. MPearl says:

    Another ski hill this close to Whistler will surely impact in a very negative way the future of Whistler. Any jobs that come from developing Garbaldi will be short term and any economic gain will be balanced probably in a more negative way by the loss of jobs and prosperity caused by the downturn in Whistler’s economy. If Whistler were not already here, then maybe it would be a good idea to have a ski hill a little closer to Vancouver. We should not let selfish and greedy developers profit at the expense of Whistler’s citizens and its investors.

    • TJay says:

      MPearl, Tis curious that you want us all to think about Whistler more than Squamish. hmmmmmmmmm

  5. Brenda Bjorkman says:

    I am sick of hearing that man speak of this project.
    I live in Paradise Valley, last summer was extremely dry. We conserve our well water. To have the valley’s water supply threatened by an unwanted development(read the hundreds upon hundreds of public comments over the decades) is environmentally criminal.
    Global warming is a reality, proper water tests were not done(handouts given out atopen house in Dec, 2013)
    In 1996 their proposal was not given the go ahead due to the public, it was due to a political change!!!!!
    This man manipulates data to tell untruths, wether it be water results or support.
    There is not enough public support or environmental protection for this project to progress any further…..BURY THIS ALREADY!!!!!

  6. Once the air is very humid, it becomes harder for crops to lose drinking water
    through evaporation, basically with the soil.