Shames Mountain is boasting a beautiful layer of powder that is thrilling skiers and boarders on the slopes.
But that wasn’t the case early this season. Just days before the planned opening Dec. 16, slopes were barren and brown.
Unable to open without a white layer, My Mountain Co-op, the non-profit that operates the ski system at Shames Mountain, decided to try something they’ve never done before and make their own snow.
Jim Simonelli from Smithers owns a Snowstorm 3, portable, snow-making system, and had connections with a few people from Shames Mountain.
When he heard the hill might not be able to make their opening date, he got in touch with Shames manager Christian Théberge.
“Basically it was just to help make sure that they were able to open at Christmas,” said Salmonelli.
“I know how important that Christmas time is for them and the last thing I want to see, is another struggling ski hill.”
On Dec. 18, he brought up his machine, and went up with five people to make snow happen.
But the attempt was a bust.
“Everything you could imagine going wrong, was going wrong,” Théberge said matter-of-factly.
“Just about every pipe in the place was frozen, we were having water supply issues. We didn’t have enough torches, water lines, extra pumps. As soon as you stopped, within a minute everything froze.
“In about three days of work, we successfully made snow for about four hours,” he summarized.
Simonelli agreed, explaining that logistics made it extremely challenging.
The compressor they had was too small to run the full snow making system, and the worst part was trying to transport water 500-metres in temperatures between -20 and -25.
“If one cog in the wheel stops, then the entire system would freeze up,” Salmonelli explained. “That was the problem. We had it going really well, and then we had a minor hiccup, and stopped for literally 30 seconds, and the whole system froze up.”
After two overtime days of labouring over the system, with only about five hours of it actually running, Théberge said they yielded roughly a loader bucket of snow.
Since the forecast said snow was on its way, they called off the snow making and let nature take its course.
Snow came Dec. 17, allowing the club to have a partial opening Dec. 17.
By Dec. 18, snow layered the slopes with a metre and a half of powder and the hill launched into full operation.
“It was an adventure,” said Théberge, quick to find the bright side of the snow-making fiasco.
“We learned a lot from it,” he said, adding that they would attempt it again, but not the week of opening, which is already busy for volunteers.
Salmonelli said he had fun getting to know a bunch of hardworking volunteers and added that they could have made the system work if they had more time.
But the hill opened with the Dec. 18 snowfall and snow issues were shelved after the Christmas and Boxing Day dump of snow.
Breakdowns hit them a bit hard during the holidays, but they managed to stay open all but one day, Dec. 19.
Théberge says the slopes have been beautiful and busy ever since, and at their annual free open house on New Years Day, they saw a whopping 800 people enjoying the mountain.
That was enough reward for Simonelli, who completely donated the use of his snow machine, something which could’ve cost up to $15,000.
The Terrace community also came together to support the snow-making attempt, which captures what Simonelli says is unique to Terrace.
Businesses donated machinery, equipment, hoses, pumps, and compressors, and six men volunteered more than two 14-hour days.
“The community of Terrace has worked hard, and that whole mountain co-op has worked so hard to make that mountain run,” said Salmonelli.
“I wanted to just help out where I could to make sure that they are able to continue running.”
Salmonelli says the has worked in the ski industry all across Canada and Terrace’s community-run and supported ski hill is unique, benefiting the whole community and the northwest.
“Twenty years ago Shames was a lot different than what it is now, and Terrace has grown as a community because of it,” he said.
Having the ski hill here has attracted active, outdoor, backcountry people to Terrace, strengthening the entire society and making it more diverse and active.
“The ski hill attracts a totally different type of person to the northwest… active, backcountry people… it has definitely improved the entire north,” he said.
“The northwest is a lot more active now than it was 20 years ago, as far as people getting out and doing things,” he explained. “That makes it healthier for everyone.”