VR exec leaves for Russian ski resort
Vail, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE ” “Content” is not a word that necessarily defines Roger McCarthy.
In following his own particular professional persuasion, McCarthy is leaving his position as as chief operating officer of Breckenridge Mountain Resort and co-president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division to take on the challenge of his career ” he’ll head up the ambitious development of a new resort in a remote, but resource-rich corner of southwest Russia.
“To a large degree, it’s getting in on the ground floor. It’s kind of like building the best damn ski area that you can imagine ” right out of the box,” McCarthy said in a recent interview, sitting comfortably in his corner office that looks out over Breck’s Peak 8 base area.
The affable former head-honcho at both Breckenridge and Keystone resorts worked the final day in his seven-year career at Vail Resorts on May 4.
The 57-year-old McCarthy’s move to the other side of the world isn’t really a surprise, however. McCarthy is from New Zealand originally.
After holding a series of jobs at Canada’s Whistler Mountain in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s ” overseeing that resort’s rise to prominence ” McCarthy switched gears. In 1991, he joined a group that resuscitated the then-bankrupt Mont Tremblant ski area in Quebec. By 1995, Mont Tremblant was the No. 1 resort in eastern North America, a position that it still maintains today.
“I enjoy the challenge, and the mental stimulation,” he said.
At first blush, McCarthy’s abrupt departure to the southernmost corner of Russia seems, well, sort of crazy.
But there ” under most of the ski world’s radar, it seems ” a real revolution is taking place. Against the backdrop of Black Sea beaches and steep, snow-covered peaks just miles from the coastline, a unique project that aims to be a premier bundle of wintertime resorts is already in full swing.
In Sochy and the nearby mountain village of Krasnaya Polana, the Russian government and a cadre of uber-wealthy powerful Russian industrialists have forged a development partnership that will pump more than $12.5 billion into the region.
According to Forbes magazine, “With seven gondolas planned for the area, Krasnaya Polana represents the largest concentration of ski industry investment in the world.”
McCarthy is hitching up with one of the major players, nickel mining magnate Viktor Potanin, whose private investment company Interros is developing the brand new resort, Rosa Khutor. After a number of months feeling each other out, McCarthy and Interros eventually won each other’s confidence.
“These guys are just a class act,” McCarthy said of his new Russian bosses, who include a former director of the World Bank. “They just see the world a different way from the way we do.”
That goes for Russian President Vladimir Putin, too ” who very publicly has been eroding new freedoms in the country, jailing prominent industrialists and silencing democratic voices of dissent along the way. Despite the unusual public-private partnership that has developed, and Putin’s unpredictability, McCarthy expressed confidence in the Russian president as well.
“(Putin) is driving this thing,” McCarthy said. “He’s also a heli-skiing freak. I hope I get to go skiing with him someday. I probably will.”
But first things first. Starting around the third week in May, McCarthy will be waist-deep in plans to raise the new Rosa Khutor resort from almost nothing, on an aggressive timeline. The resort has ambitious plans to build three gondolas, a high-speed six-seat chairlift, and a host of other lifts that will need to be up and running by December of next year, McCarthy said. “They really haven’t even cut a tree, yet.”
And there’s really little time to waste because Russia has its sights set on an hosting the 2013 Winter Olympic Games ” Sochy is one of three finalists for the Games.
“(The Olympics) adds kind of an interesting dimension,” McCarthy said. “Because it puts you on the world stage in terms of getting it right. It also ups the motivation for everybody else.”
“I think these guys have a very good chance (of getting the Games),” he said, with a wry smile.
McCarthy leaves behind major successes at both Breckenridge and Keystone, ski areas that today record more skier visits in one year than in the whole of Russia.
“I sort of see myself as much less of a pioneer and more of somebody who wants to do something great, and create a very special place,” McCarthy said. “It’s just perfect timing for me, in a lot of respects.”