Opening in December of 2012 is the first sled-assisted ski hill in British Columbia. The Valemount Area Recreation Development Association (VARDA) has been working on the project for three years and members of this group are incredibly excited to show off their efforts to snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders.
The Crystal Ridge sled-assisted ski hill on Mount Diefenbaker involves four runs. VARDA's general manager, Curtis Pawliuk, compares the facility to old-school downhill mountain biking. He said it's just like back in the day when a group of them would pile their bikes into the back of a truck and drive up to the top of the hill; then they would bike down while the driver of the truck went back to the bottom to pick them up. It's like that, but better.
"People will head out first to the 14-kilometre access trail to get into the facility," said Pawliuk, "where you'll leave a couple of snowmobiles at the bottom and groups can either get towed up or just double up and take turns skiing down. Our runs are just over 2,000 vertical feet, so it's quite large. We will have four of them open for this year, although there is lots of terrain for the potential ski tourer or snowboarder."
The runs measure about two kilometres in length and there will be a lower section on two of the runs that can be accessed off the up-track; younger kids or those just learning how to powder ski will appreciate these lower sections.
"The runs are not extreme," Pawliuk said. "It's mellower terrain, heavily treed with amazing snow. But you do need to be proficient at powder skiing for sure. This is definitely for a moderately experienced skier or snowboarder."
Fun without a fee
The amazing thing about the public sled-assisted ski hill is that it's free. Pawliuk said the plan will be to eventually recoup the costs for maintenance of the area, as well as for possible additional runs and further development. But, he said, when a cost is put on the facility, it will be the same as the cost to use one of VARDA's other managed areas: a simple $20 per day fee.
Although VARDA has put a large chunk of capital into the project, 90 per cent of the funding for Crystal Ridge came from Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) and its community initiatives program.
Backed by the community
"This whole development was voted on and supported by the public in Valemount," said Pawliuk. "We presented our project, our idea, our request for funds and then the public in Valemount actually got a chance to vote on it and decide what projects they would like to support. Of course, council has the final last say, but yes, CBT funded most of this and we had overwhelming support from the community, so it's pretty exciting."
VARDA is a non-profit association made up of local businesses and backcountry users. Its key goals are focused on community and public education to help backcountry use and improve the backcountry experience for all user groups. VARDA is also tasked with assisting the government in managing the recreational snowmobiling industry for the town of Valemount.
Valemount loves snow
Snowmobiling and snow sports are now the main economic drivers in the community of Valemount, said Pawliuk.
"The town, the business owners and the locals really appreciate the patronage that the snowmobile community is providing to the community," he said. "At the same time, we have a great club, board of directors and volunteers that are putting in their time to make sure we provide world-class snowmobiling."
Pawliuk said Valemount is also a leader in heli-skiing in British Columbia, and for good reason: the snow is second to none. This, he said, also makes it one of the best snowmobiling communities in Western Canada, or even the world.
"We have a great season, a long season, moderate temperatures (and) access for all levels and all abilities," said Pawliuk, "but at the same time, you can push yourself if you want to."