Plans emerge for backcountry chalet and ski hut on Mount Begbie

Proponents of 'Begbie Alpine Chalet' will present their concept for a backcountry chalet and a separate hut on Mount Begbie at a public meeting next week.

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Fireworks watchers look towards Centennial Park and Mount Begbie at the 2017 Canada Day festivities. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Mount Begbie, located across the Columbia River from downtown Revelstoke, is often described as our “iconic” mountain. From almost anywhere in town, you can look up to see its glacier bathing in the moonlight. When future Revelstoke residents look up, will they also catch a glimmer of light coming from an upscale dining room perched high up the mountain?

Possibly. A development group has just shared early plans for two backcountry accommodation buildings on the mountain, and is inviting residents to a September 25 open house to learn more and give feedback.

Some background

Rumours of plans for some kind of active ski development plan on the mountain have been circulating around Revelstoke in recent years, possibly including plans for a gondola. They were the subject of this story from the October 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

File photo: Hiking up Revelstoke’s imperious Mt Begbie is worthwhile even in overcast weather to see the glacier. Photo: Emily Kemp/Revelstoke Mountaineer.

In the story, journalist Alex Cooper talked with spokesperson Ian Tomm, who said he was exploring ideas with a group interested in backcountry recreation development, but he emphasized the project was at an early, exploratory stage.

Tomm is a fairly well known figure in Revelstoke, both in town and more so in the backcountry recreation industry. He’s worked in the guiding field in a number capacities, and recently he served in a high-profile position as executive director of HeliCat Canada, a helicopter and snowcat industry group that, among other things, lobbies government on policy issues.

Ian Tomm, pictured in a photo previously submitted to the Mountaineer. Photo:: Contributed by Ian Tomm

Locally, he’s been involved in plans to develop an indoor climbing gym, which is now fundraising in partnership with the squash club for a multiplex facility. He also once contributed an opinion column that was published in an issue of our magazine. In the column, he argued for reforms to the B.C. backcountry tenure system.

Tomm said he is one of three proponents of the project, along with Tom Ebbern and Nick Holmes-Smith. They are calling the proposal the Begbie Alpine Chalet.

Last year, we interviewed Tomm for our story about a development project on Mount Begbie. At the time, there was discussion of a possible gondola on the mountain, something Tomm said is now no longer being considered.

He said the current group and their initiative is different from his previous work with other proponents.

“This project is unaffiliated with the resort project I was working on last year,” he said.

Nick Holmes-Smith contacted the Mountaineer in the summer, saying the group planned to announce their project and public consultation soon.

What are the plans?

There aren’t many details yet. This week, the group published a website for the proposed Begbie Alpine Chalet, but it doesn’t contain a lot of information. You can also sign up for email notifications via the website.

The plan calls for two separate buildings at a location roughly 100 to 200 metres up from the existing campsite. That campsite is popular with hikers climbing to the summit; they camp there overnight before doing the final alpine leg to the summit the next day.

The proponents describe the first building as a 16-person alpine club-style hut with a group kitchen and dorm-style accommodations. Tomm said the hut is would be comparable to other backcountry huts in the area. “Sort of your typical alpine hut-style hut,” he said.

This image from the Begbie Alpine Chalet website shows the proposed location of the two buildings. Revelstoke can be seen in the valley in the background.  Image: Begbie Alpine Chalet

The plan is to construct that building first, Tomm said.

The second proposed building is an alpine chalet with 16 private rooms, en suite bathrooms and catered dining. Tomm said the plan is to create an “upscale” facility “best envisioned as a backcountry hotel.”

He said there are no plans to offer heli-skiing at the location, and that the type of tenure the group plans to apply for doesn’t allow for heli-skiing. Tomm said winter activities would include backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, for example.

At the time of writing, there wasn’t any more information on the website other that what’s covered here.

Currently, the group has not filed an application with the provincial authorities. Tomm said he had been meeting in private with various stakeholders on the concept.

Tomm said the site in question is about 4.5 acres.

What’s happening now?

File photo: Success! Staff journalist Emily Kemp reaches the glacier on Mount Begbie. Photo: Emily Kemp/Revelstoke Mountaineer.

The proponents have announced plans for an open house at the Revelstoke Community & Aquatic Centre on Wednesday, September 25 from 6–8 p.m. in the Macpherson Room.

Tomm said the intent of the meeting is to gather feedback from the community on the plan.

“This is pre-consultation with the public,” Tomm said. “We want to present the idea and have the discussion before our application to government.”

The group is inviting residents to the open house to find out more.

“There’s going to be a fair bit of discussion on the specifics of the facility,” Tomm said. “We’re there to listen. Everyone is going to be open to hearing lots of different perspectives.”

Proposal likely to generate conversation

The view of Mt. Begbie from the water on Williamson’s Lake. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer file photo

Mount Begbie is Revelstoke’s highly visible alpine peak; it has captured the imagination of Revelstoke residents for generations. Plans for a chalet on the mountain pass a key test for community interest: Would people strike up a conversation about it at a local shop? The answer is yes.

It’s also a popular recreation site in summer, when hikers trek to the summit. In winter, backcountry recreationists of several stripes access the area.

In our interview, Tomm noted there is currently a lot of varied activity on the mountain, and a significant amount of helicopter use. In their social media feeds, many Revelstoke residents have likely seen pictures of newlyweds posing for photos in the Begbie alpine. Hikers get heli-boots to the alpine to skip over the long hike in the trees. The list goes on.

Building and servicing the site will require a lot of horsepower. Tomm said the servicing will likely be done by helicopters, similar to the many other backcountry lodges in the area. He said the proponents are open to exploring community service agreements, such as for upgrading trails.

Earlier this year, the North Columbia Environmental Society (NCES) petitioned the Columbia Shuswap Regional District Area B director, David Brooks-Hill, requesting that the regional government seek protection for the mountain. At the time, the group cited the iconic nature of the mountain, and noted the area is habitat for many kinds of flora and fauna. The society sought a restriction on fossil fuel engines. Tomm met with the NCES board late last year to discuss an earlier iteration of the Begbie development concept. The NCES request to the regional district rep to seek protection for Mount Begbie came several months later.

In a growing Revelstoke with a growing backcountry scene, land use issues come to the fore frequently. The conversations often lead to a call for better land use planning, something that has been difficult to achieve because it requires getting many levels of government on the same page. In the meantime, the provincial processes can be alienating, spilling over ill will onto the proponents themselves.

On the other hand, sometimes fairly big development plans come and go with little notice.

The mountain means a lot to many Revelstokians, so it seems likely there will be a lot of public interest in the project. Check back for more on this story in the future.

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