The ski lifestyle that we have become accustomed to will change. Real estate values that are grounded in seasonal weather patterns will be impacted.

By Chris Chopik

Imagine Whistler, B.C. without snow. We saw this year’s Olympic coverage threaded with a constant flow of flippant comments about rain and fog. For the lower altitude ski areas of Whistler Mountain, and resorts globally, it is an ongoing and prominent public discussion. Impacts are so pressing that resort operators have been looking to climate forecasters to help them mitigate risk and creatively plan for future business success. Real estate holdings, mountain operations, development and profitability are on the table. For the benefit of the planet and bottom lines, skiers and resorts are undergoing intense reconciliation.

Whistler was the host for the Real Estate Institute of British Columbia’s Conference (REIBC) about the Effects of Climate Change on Real Estate. I attended a series of talks presented by insurance experts and scientists. As a lifetime skier and snowboard fanatic, I was saddened to hear that many of the world’s ski resorts are bracing themselves for a lasting decline in natural ski conditions. Arthur deJong, spokesperson for Whistler Resort said, “Within a projected four degree increase in global average temperature we anticipate the closure of 75 per cent of the world’s ski resorts.”

This should come as no surprise with mounting awareness of world-wide glacial melting and general atmospheric warming. The question weighing on my mind is what are the implications for real estate holdings as a result of the hard-hitting messages from scientific researchers evaluating impacts of climate change on real estate values? Here are some of the issues:

“McMansions” – Speaking with local residents revealed distaste for the persistent “McMansion” developments and the extreme opulence and wastefulness near Whistler. According to a 10-year resident and homeowner, “many of these homes are kept heated and cooled, with hot tubs running, lawns manicured and swimming pools operating, standing at the ready for occupants who visit for two weeks out of the year. This town has a long way to go to achieve sustainability and it should start with the McMansions.”

I think the challenge for any municipality is achieving sensible tax base growth while ensuring the long-term viability of real estate. I think of it in terms of the highest and best use over the 80-year life of the building, not only today’s market. Perhaps Whistler and other Canadian municipalities should move to 80-year tax base planning by incenting sustainable building forms and discouraging the McMansion phenomenon.

Carbon offsetting – “Carbon offsetting is a challenging proposition. We are waiting for an audited standard for carbon offsets to emerge, we have been watching the carbon trading markets,” said deJong when we spoke in 2006. Whistler’s Olympic carbon offsets came from Canadian offset firm Carbon Counted. With the carbon intensity of ski tourism it seems like a natural pairing of services to help clients offset the environmental impacts of their trip.

Whistler Mountain is planning for climate change – There is an extensive mitigation strategy for mountain development. As the snowline moves up the mountain, there is a plan to move skiable areas higher into the alpine terrain. There are also plans to intensify the snow making on the mountain. Power generation is being proposed, and there is a micro-hydro plan for the mountain that could generate a significant portion of the power used by the resort. There is also a feasibility and wind monitoring system in place that will allow for the erection of wind turbines in windy alpine locations. Once installed, the renewable energy sources could make the resort a net energy producer.

Naturalization of mountain planning – In recent years, development at Whistler Mountain has taken a new trajectory. A recent area of the mountain to be serviced with a lift, Symphony Bowl, has been developed with community, environmental and developer input. As a result much of the landscape is as it was found, offering skiers a natural alpine experience that preserves natural ecosystems for animals.

“When we sat down with environmentalists and other stakeholders we found that we had very similar goals. We learned a lot from one another and as a result have achieved an excellent result that benefits everyone,” says deJong.

The future of ski resort real estate – The ski lifestyle that we have become accustomed to will change. Real estate values that are grounded in seasonal weather patterns will be impacted. In 2006 Whistler saw a dismal season of snow. We have seen similar struggles in Ontario, with local mountains reducing services, laying off staff and pushing off-season attractions. Based on what I have read, all of this is a part of the future climate reality. Ski areas that are complacent in mitigating financial risks through diversification of attractions are likely to find a difficult future. Real estate values that are harmonized with these resorts will be impacted. For now, I am strapping on my snowshoes, enjoying the first excellent dump of snow. I will keep my fingers crossed that it just keeps snowing all winter long. But alas, as I tune in to the Weather Network, my hope wanes as mid February weather in Toronto reports temperatures of 10 C.

Chris Chopik is a Toronto-based Realtor, sought-after public speaker, real estate trainer and writer. Email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Twitter: EvolutionGreen or call 416-993-4870.

Posted: 2010-04-13 07:19:08

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