The Australian with a vision for Big White Ski Resort and then Silver Star Mountain Resort died April 12. Desmond Robert Schumann was 94.
Born July 25, 1917, in Adelaide, Australia, the patriarch of the Schumann family had the the Midas touch when it came to ski resorts. That was certainly true in his native Australia in 1968 when he purchased Mt. Hotham in Victoria and turned a one-rope-tow, one-building ski area owned by a ski club into one of the country's major resorts.
It was also true when Schumann came to Canada and recognized a steal-of-a-deal in the $4.5-million receivership purchase of under-developed, under-utilized Big White Ski Resort in 1985. Schumann spent $17 million during the next five years on new facilities, including two new high speed quads.
In 1995, the Schumann family sold the Mt. Hotham lift company to BCR Management for $22 million (Australian) to free up its three generations so they could concentrate on Big White. That proved so successful that Schumann looked northward. In 2001, the Schumann family purchased of the majority assets of Silver Star Mountain Resort from owner Judd Buchanan.
An investment of $10 million in resort expansion
followed, including the Comet Express - a $5.2-million, six-passenger, high speed chairlift, the largest of its kind in Canada - as well as the $4.1-million Powder Gulch Express, $700,000 on improving guest service infrastructure including a new bakery, new retail shop, a Wonder Carpet beginner lift and upgrades to the Tube Park.
"It's a sad loss. He was a great guy. He will be sadly missed, absolutely," said Jimmie Spencer, former president and CEO (for 32 years) of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, which represents 110 resorts in Western Canada, 60 of those in B.C.
They met when Schumann bought Big White in 1985 and became even closer after 2001 when he bought Silver Star Mountain Resort near Vernon where the association had its head office.
"I got to know him extremely well with his interest in Silver Star. He used to come by my office pretty well every day on the way up to the mountain. He would always call in and have a little chat for about three-quarters of an hour. He certainly did a huge amount between the two mountains. His interest was very much in bringing those two mountains up and forward, and making it the most enjoyable experience for everybody."
Schumann always had whimsical little jokes
"I will miss him because I thoroughly enjoyed him as a person. He was very genuine, a guy that put his money where his mouth was."
The two also traded war stories: Spencer was a professional soldier with the British Army while Schumann was stationed with the Royal Australia Air Force during World War Two in New Guinea and the Catalinas. Schumann was stationed in Japan after the war.