It’s opening weekend at Shames Mountain, and the ski and snowboard community is even more stoked than usual.
“The energy’s incredible,” said Shames general manager Christian Theberge.
That’s because this is the year My Mountain Co-op finally takes ownership of the mountain, following news that the provincial government has set out a forgiveness plan for Shames’ long-standing debt, paving the way for the Co-op to purchase the mountain, not just act as operator.
“We’ll actually have ownership,” he said. “All that we’ve put in will be an asset.”
The Co-op spent about $300,000 this summer on upgrades to the facility – things like installing an environmentally safe generator building and a new chairlift cable, moving above ground cables underground, and trading in traditional chair lift seats for ones that flip up, to save riders from getting wet on the morning lift and staff from having to shovel them off.
This is work that has been needed for the last 10 years, but that the previous owners weren’t in a financial position to complete, he said, noting that these were major investments and that costs every year aren’t going to be as high.
But Theberge says that the $300,000 cost is actually about half of what it would have cost if it weren’t for the help of volunteers and donations from the community.
When you add in all of the value-added help, the amount of work we’ve done is closer to $600,000, he said.
Investing this money and time was a bit of a leap of faith, as there were no guarantees the province would have stepped in to forgive the mountain’s debt.
“It could’ve gone either way,” he said. “But things needed to be done.”
And if the province hadn’t stepped in, “it would have been the end of the ski hill,” he said. The end of the ski hill would have meant the loss of 60 seasonal full- and part-time jobs and about $1 million to the local economy.
But now that those worries are behind them, the mountain can look towards the 2012/2013 season, which opens this Saturday, Dec. 15.
“It’s a big day,” said Theberge, noting that Sunday is an All Seasons demo day, which means the weekend will be very busy on the hill.
The Powder Express bus is back running this year, leaving from Copperside at 8:00 a.m. and heading back at 4 p.m. It will be available on the weekends and every day of the holidays, for a round trip cost of $10.
School groups will once again be on the hill Fridays and Mondays, after taking last year off due to teacher job action.
“Kids are the future of the mountain,” said Theberge. “We’re hoping to get as many as we can.”
Shames has the lowest school group price in the province, he says. And the new Northern Snow Angels program, which aims to fund students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a trip up the mountain, will help introduce kids to skiing and snowboarding as well.
For special events this year, the Ruins Cup, Kermode Tuck, and Family Day festivities are all a go once again, as is a toboggan demo day.
The snow report is calling for a normal year of snowfall, compared to last year’s record snowfall. But, “here it’s hard to put much weight in weather,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to wake up to 50 cm.”
And looking forward to future years, the hill is in the midst of drawing up a master plan. There’s talk of building a hostel – but the mountain needs to have power, first.
Right now, the mountain runs on a diesel generator, which is very expensive.
Running power lines up the hill is expensive, too – we’re talking millions of dollars that the mountain would have to pay for.
But Theberge is optimistic there will be community support once they decide it’s time to go ahead with this endeavour.
“We’re a non-profit organization, no different than the library or the arena,” he said, noting groups have already offered their services to the project.
“We’re an important asset to the town.”