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Nancy Jenkinson's Rocky Mountain High

Georgie Binks
Nancy Jenkinson's Rocky Mountain High

They may talk about ‘bear’ markets on Toronto’s Bay Street, but if Nancy (Firstbrook) Jenkinson, BCom’82,mentions the creature, she has likely spotted one through her corner office window. The views of the mountain and wildlife are just some of the perks of her job as Director of Finance at Panorama Mountain Resort
in B.C.’s Rocky Mountains.

The trail that led her to Panorama began with her decision to pursue an accounting career after graduating with her Queen’s Commerce degree in 1982. After attaining her CA designation while at Clarkson Gordon, she moved to commercial real estate accounting at Oxford Properties and later OMERS Realty in Toronto.

“I’d never really lost the dream that I was going to end up in the mountains,” says Nancy.

Her view from the 32nd floor of BCE Place overlooked the Air Canada Centre – not bad by Toronto standards, but hardly comparable to a Rocky Mountain high. It was during her commute on the Go Train in 1998 that she spotted the newspaper ad that changed her life. Panorama was looking for a Director of Finance. After an on-site interview on a sunny February day (“I was blown away by the views”) and an accepted job offer, she and her educator husband Jim packed up their two small children and moved west. “I told my boss at the time I’d just landed my dream job.”

While her new position paid less than she was making, she was happy to exchange less green for more blue (sky) and white (snow) to be able to combine her love of skiing with a job in her field. The Toronto native had donned her first set of downhill skis at the tender age of 3 and spent countless weekends and holidays skiing at Collingwood, north of the city. An accomplished skier by the time she entered Queen’s, she had no trouble qualifying for the university’s alpine ski team. She contemplated taking a year off to ski after graduation, but chose the career route instead. At the same time, she muses, “I’d never really lost the dream that I was going to end up in the mountains.”

These days Nancy’s commute is a far cry from her previous Go Train routine. She drives from home in nearby Invermere (pop. 2,500) on a winding road that follows a creek running through a steep canyon. “It’s beautiful. The river freezes over sometimes, other times it’s crystal blue, but it’s just gorgeous. Sometimes I see moose or elk on the side of the road, as well as bears in the spring.”

There's a Real Team Spirit In Operation at Panorama, With Everyone Pitching In As Needed.

Once at her desk, Nancy turns her sights to the tasks at hand. These include overseeing accounting and technology for the resort, as well as regular budgeting, forecasting and financial reporting. She’s also involved in operational planning, tackling such issues as the upgrading of ski lifts and the addition of new amenities. The resort operates year-round with nearly 500 employees during the peak season. Snowboarding, downhill and helicopter-skiing are replaced in the spring and summer by hiking and mountain biking on an extensive network of trails and golfing at Greywolf Golf Course.

There’s a real team spirit in operation at Panorama, with everyone pitching in as needed. On occasion Nancy has rolled up her sleeves, quite literally, to help clear tables or make beds. Every so often she fills in as duty manager and has to handle phone calls in the middle of the night. “I was woken up one night by a guest who was yelling on the phone that his neighbours wouldn’t go to bed.”

This hands-on experience gives her insights into the sorts of issues staff frequently deal with and areas that might need more resources or another approach. Squeezing in a few runs on her lunch hour or during a break on a good day brings her into contact with the resort’s guests. Chats with fellow skiers during chair lift or gondola rides help her keep current with the company’s core business: providing an exceptional experience to its guests.

Above and top, Panorama Mountain Village It’s not all blue skies, though. Recently Intrawest – Panorama’s parent company – experienced difficulties in meeting loan payment deadlines. The resort has been sold to a group of local investors, and Nancy is pleased to be staying on in her current position under the new regime.

Nancy and her family have definitely acclimatized to their Rocky Mountain lifestyle. Daughter Barbara, nearly 15, is involved in ski racing, while Jaime, 13, skis just for the fun of it. Husband Jim is a school trustee for Rocky Mountain School District 6. He also teaches at the College of the Rockies.

“What I love about it is that I’m passionate about skiing and ski racing,” says Nancy. “I remember doing accounting for shopping malls I’d never been to. I felt so removed from it and had no emotional feeling about it. That’s what’s so wonderful about this.”

Clearly she hasn’t changed her mind one bit about that dream job she left Toronto for twelve years ago.

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