At the beginning of the 1990s, Tod Mountain was still little more than a day skiers’ delight, but, as the century was winding down, it was about to undergo an explosive period of expansion, laying the foundation of the community we know today.
Laying most of those foundations was Marty White, owner of Diamond Lil’s Trucking. A gravel, excavating and concrete contractor, White moved his operation to Lake Bay Road in the early ‘90s.
“I heard about this place called Tod Mountain and there was a lot of hype up there,” says White. “Things weren’t all that busy (at the time) but there were some pretty good signs it soon would be.”
At the time he owned just one excavator, but when Nippon Cable started the resort’s expansion in the early ‘90s, Diamond Lil’s grew right alongside it.
White recalls, “If Sun Peaks did good so did we. In business, it’s all about timing, to be in the right place, at the right time.”
Being in the right place at the right time was the key for Konrad Glowczynksi who, along with his wife, Elizabeth, pioneered Sun Peaks’ café culture, establishing Bolacco Café, the village’s first independent coffee shop.
“I bought it from specs; there wasn’t even a hole here,” exclaims Konrad who loved the unspoiled beauty of the burgeoning resort he’d been skiing since the early ‘90s. On a visit to Sun Peaks in the summer of 1996, Konrad was impressed with the development that had taken place over a short period of time and decided to buy the smallest commercial site available to create his own job and a new life for his family.
“I didn’t have any money at the time, so I gave them my credit card and went back to Vancouver, organized the rest and finally, in November, 1996, Bolacco opened,” recalls Bolacco’s chief barista.
Ryan Schmalz, owner of Mountain High Pizza and Tod Mountain Coffee House & Creperie followed a similar path to entrepreneurial success. An avid skier, Schmalz enjoyed countless winter vacations in Sun Peaks, but it wasn’t until he was in university that he got the itch to stay permanently.
“In 1997 I was going to university and I took a year off and decided to be a ski bum for the winter of 1997/98, and I never left,” says Schmalz.
With resort development booming, Schmalz thought there was no better time to be part of the Sun Peaks scene.
“I loved it up here and I liked the vibe, it was electric,” remembers Schmalz. “I was trying to figure out how I could sustain a lifestyle to be able to survive up here.” Schmalz surveyed the landscape and saw his opportunity.
“There was no pizza place, so I decided to open one.”
Starting a new business is a scary venture. Succeeding in a brand new resort took determination.
“I think for the people that stuck it out, like (the owners of) Bolacco’s and myself, have the advantage of knowing what you need to survive at Sun Peaks,” he says.
“In the first years, I had no money, but I loved it,” says Konrad. “If I owned a business to make lots of money, I wouldn’t still be here. This business is more about lifestyle; we’re making money, but we’re not getting rich.”
Schmalz agrees the lifestyle is actually the greatest reward to being a small business owner in Sun Peaks.
“I work in my business every single day, but the lifestyle lets me go snowboarding in the morning and to work in the afternoon. If it wasn’t for the lifestyle, I wouldn’t still have the job,” he says.
Whether for lifestyle or financial rewards, all agree that being part of the resort from its earliest days has been very satisfying.
“We weren’t the only ones (building the resort)” notes White. Statistics show 80 per cent of small businesses fail in their first 16 months, but for these three, at least, their businesses have grown right along with the resort.
“It’s a risk/reward thing. Business people want a challenge,” says Schmalz. “If business wasn’t challenging, I don’t think a lot of people would do it.”