To paraphrase Tennyson: In the fall, a young Edmontonian’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of skiing (and snowboarding).
While England’s most famous Poet Laureate was writing about spring (and love), the sentiment holds true for this time of year as snow lovers gear up with breathless anticipation for the start of the season.
As always, the resorts are pumping up their new offerings and changes for this winter in hopes of attracting ever-greater visitor numbers. This season’s highlights are topped by Sunshine Village’s replacement of the old Tee Pee Town double chairlift with a whizzy detachable quad, complete with bubble shields that cover the seating area and heated seats.
“Anyone who knows that [Tee Pee Town] area knows that it’s very cold and very windy,” Sunshine’s marketing coordinator, Lindsay Gallagher, explains. “It’s going to be a real treat for people to ride on the first chairlift in Canada with heated seats.”
The Tee Pee Town LX quad will be twice as fast as the 30-year-old double, and some recontouring of the lift’s base area means there will be less of a trudge to get to the loading station.
In Jasper, Marmot Basin’s big news is this summer’s approval of their first long-range plan by Parks Canada. The approval means in the next few years, snow-making can be expanded into the mid- and upper-mountain; it also includes increased parking and expansion of the access road, expansion of the Caribou Chalet at the base of Marmot and some minor re-glading in the mid-mountain area. It’s a major accomplishment for the resort, though the impact will not be felt by visitors this season.
Similar approval by Parks Canada of Lake Louise’s long-range plan will have the Lake Louise ski area shrinking in some areas and growing in others. The Whitehorn Lodge will no longer be used for summer operations and a new lodge on Eagle Ridge, at the top of the Grizzly Gondola, can be constructed with the intention of reducing visitor’s proximity to important grizzly bear habitat. In exchange for vacating the Whitehorn Lodge area in the summer, Lake Louise has the option to develop such currently out-of-bounds areas as West Bowl, Hidden Bowl, Richardson’s Ridge and West Juniper.
Some of those areas could be opened up for public use as early as this winter, hinted Lake Louise’s communications director Dan Markham.
“It’s too early to tell, but the potential is there,” he says.
The lifts are already turning at Banff’s other ski resort, Mount Norquay, as it took the honours as being the first resort in Alberta to open this season with its November 5 start.
Nakiska in Kananaskis Country is touting improvements to its already expansive snow-making operations as the big addition this season. Modernized pumps and new pumping stations have made their snow-making more efficient than ever.
Down at Castle Mountain in Southwestern Alberta, the resort is looking for a bounce-back year after a disastrous 2014 – 15 season which ended in mid-February due to a lack of snow. Back-to-back bad-snow years are not the norm for Castle, so keep an eye on their snow reports, as it is expected to be a much better season this year.
Across the BC border at Fernie and Kimberley, fat-tire biking is the hot new offering this year, with bike rentals available at both resorts and a selection of trails to ride being offered.
Kicking Horse in Golden, BC worked throughout the summer on making parts of their famously challenging terrain more user-friendly.
“There was some massive earth-moving and re-countouring to make runs like Blaster and Tailspin more accessible for intermediates,” says Matt Mosteller, senior VP of marketing for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. (The company owns Kicking Horse, Fernie, Kimberley and Nakiska.) “We’ve also got some new winch anchors in place which will allow grooming of much steeper terrain than in the past, meaning more grooming in the upper alpine.”
In Revelstoke, the resort’s first terrain park will make its debut this winter under the Stoke Chair. A terrain park has been a long time coming for Revy, which had previously prided itself on their vast and varied landscape being a natural terrain park.
At Panorama, a larger gladed section of the Taynton Bowl is going to be accessible to resort guests this year, as terrain formerly reserved for heliski operations will now be patrolled and controlled for avalanches.
All the new offerings the resorts are touting this year are aimed at making you forget last year. While the ski industry may be loathe to admit it, the winter of 2014 – 15 was a not a good one for the Alberta and BC ski areas. The double whammy of overall below-average snowfall and an economic downturn lead to a severe dip in the number of people on the slopes.
A 14-percent decline in skier visits over the previous year was reported for 2014 – 15 by the Canada West Ski Areas Association, while the 7.4 million visits to Western Canadian resorts represented the lowest totals in more than a decade.
The majority of that loss came from the BC Coast region, where warm weather shortened seasons for several resorts. But a lack of snow was also experienced in many areas of the Canadian Rockies as well.
One of Western Canada’s few bright spots was Marmot Basin. “Our numbers were actually up compared to 2013 – 14,” says Marmot’s communications coordinator, April Callow. “We had great snowfalls, consistent cool temperatures from base to summit and few wind events. As a result, we had great coverage and great snow all over the mountain from November to May.”
Both the ski industry and the skiing public are eager to get the ski season underway and, Marmot Basin excluded, put last year behind them. I guess now may not be the best time to mention the predictions of another strong El Niño warming event this winter.