Shames season draws to a close

As the 2014/2015 ski season ends in northwest B.C., Terrace's My Mountain Co-op is showing signs it is growing up

Shames-goers celebrate a successful season Sunday

As Shames My Mountain Co-op’s (MMC) fourth season as an official community-owned ski hill glides to a close, there are a myriad of signs that the operation is growing up.

Take the increase in the number of young faces on the hill this year. MMC chair Meredith Skimson said the ski hill was able to see a lot more school groups this year because of being open Thursdays, and that the year for her could be summed up as “lots of family fun.”

“It was not awesome powder skiing, but it was great for families,” she said. “As a powder hound, if it’s not powder, you’re pretty happy to ski with your family… and great spring skiing.”

But even though the conditions were less than ideal for some, we in the north still had it better than many ski hills down south.

“We feel really lucky to be in the north and to have been able to be open for the season,” she said.  “Really lucky for mother nature, she did her part.”

And for MMC’s part, the co-op continued to plug away at its energy efficiency and sustainability goals and has more in store for the off-season.

“What made the biggest difference is that we were able to switch the diesel generators and use the new smaller one this year, that improved our efficiency by heaps,” she said, noting the energy savings at this point are around 40 per cent. “To see that we’re saving 40 per cent on our fuel bill is amazing, that translates really good for us financially.”

And the team hopes to save even more by using its community forests grant to recapture the heat from the diesel generator and use it to heat the lodge – a project that’s been an idea for some time but will become a reality before next season.

“It’s nice to get to that level – we’re still doing our energy audit monitoring, how much energy we use where, and it’ll be really good, good to move forward that way,” she said.

She said the co-op is very close to completing its basic infrastructure goals, with only about a quarter of the grips on the chairlift left to be replaced, the sewer and energy upgraded, the lodge fixed up, and the t-bar haul rope replaced.

“Of course, there will always be something that needs to be fixed up,” she said. To that end, co-op will be fundraising for a new groomer this year.

“The next big thing is we need a new snowcat,” she said. The goal would be to buy a higher end snowcat – she said they cost around $300,000 – that MMC could turn around every two years instead of buying a used machine and needing to maintain it all of the time.

“It would be great to harness the energy of the co-op and buy a new snowcat instead of having to do payments,” she said.

Skimson said the generosity of community members and businesses has grown with the co-op.

“I feel that people have really gained confidence in the co-op so they’re really opening their purse strings,” she said.

And as the co-op grows, the operation is having to make some grown-up decisions. Snowmobilers were dismayed last week to learn that motorized vehicles would no longer be allowed on the mountain, with the co-op saying it’s a liability issue.

“As we grow we have to manage our responsibilities more practically and we can’t allow motorized vehicles on our ski runs after the season is closed,” she said. “In the past we’ve been able to turn a blind eye to things like snowmobiles and stuff like that, and there’s been a long tradition of people riding up when the hill’s been closed but we’ve had some close calls with our staff and equipment, so we have to protect our area and reduce our risk and liability.”

She said it wasn’t one specific incident that fueled the policy implementation, rather several instances of close calls with the groomer and moments where staff were working on the mountain and encountered “disrespectful” people who didn’t listen to the staff member’s requests.

Off-season parking in the parking lot and hiking up the mountain for tobogganing and ski touring is still OK.

“It’s just motorized vehicles, people driving their trucks up there,” she said. “You wouldn’t get away with that at Whistler. I shouldn’t compare us to Whistler, but there aren’t many ski resorts that would actually let you do that.”