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Skiers aren't complaining about big-snow winter

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

While that chorus may not be on the lips of legions of exasperated snow shovellers, its sweet music to those who like their winters white.

Central Alberta ski areas — both downhill and cross-country — haven’t had it so good in years.

“Amazing. Best ever,” is how Brian Johnson describes cross-country trails around Red Deer.

“I’ve been skiing for over 20 years and we’ve never had a winter like this, for having so much snow and so early. It’s our earliest start we’ve ever had,” said Johnson, a Hunting Hills High School teacher, who also coaches dozens of local cross-country skiers and competitive racers.

Typically, the new year is considered the start of the training season for many skiers but Johnson was able to take his racers out by mid-November.

They not only got an earlier start but they were able to ski areas — such as the hills at River Bend Golf and Recreation Area — that usually don’t get enough ski-able snow until mid-January.

“We are the envy of Alberta. I’ve talked to all the skiers, and go to the races around the province, and nobody can believe we’ve had four feet of snow in Red Deer. They are just amazed.”

Even cross-country ski areas in Kananaskis and Canmore can’t match Red Deer’s conditions.

This week’s chinook shouldn’t pose any problems, he said.

“We have so much cold in that snow pack, a couple of days of warm isn’t going to affect it.”

Local competitive skiers will get an opportunity to showcase local conditions at the Alberta Cup at River Bend, which is expected to attract up to 300 participants from across the province on Jan. 25 and 26.

At Canyon Ski Resort, powder lovers are enjoying ideal conditions with 120 cm of snowfall recorded this winter.

“These are probably the best conditions that Canyon has seen out here since the hill first opened in 1965,” said co-owner David Martel.

Martel said he was talking to the Martinek family, who owned the hill until June 2010, and “they said they waited for this for 43 years,” he said with a laugh.

It’s tough to get a handle on visitor numbers yet, but he’s noticed a shift in clientele.

“One thing we can determine is we are getting more of the avid skier out here that might typically go to the mountains to catch a powder day. We are now capturing them out here and they’re enjoying great conditions minutes from home.”

The recent warm temperatures won’t hurt conditions.

“We’ve got such a large base it takes a lot of warm days to affect that base,” he said.

Even better, the weather is expected to draw people to the hill who may have stayed home during some of this winter’s regular cold snaps.

Martel said for many, winter is all about snow and this year delivered. “I don’t know anybody who likes it to be cold and brown outside.”

This year, a pilot project was launched at Canyon that allows skiers or snowboarders to buy lift tickets at the upper parking lot on weekends and begin their day at the top of the hill. It is not set up for rentals or the tube park but has been a popular option for those with their own equipment.

Canyon is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At Medicine Lodge Ski Hill, near Bentley, the number of skiers and snowboarders hitting the slopes on a typical day at the volunteer-run hill has doubled to about 180.

“The crowds have been up, but I think that’s everywhere kind of due to the amount of snow,” said Bud Offet, 71, who has volunteered at the hill for 40 years. “With this amount of snow, it gets people wanting to go skiing.

“I’m guessing we’ve had about four feet of snowfall.”

Another plus is that the cold weather has eased so families with young children can come out.

The ski hill is owned by the Town of Bentley and run by a dedicated group of about a dozen volunteers. It is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and some Wolf Creek School Division holidays, including Jan. 30 and 31 this month.

Life is also good at Innisfail Ski Hill.

“It’s probably one of the better seasons we’ve had in a few years,” said Brent Jackson, a local pharmacist and president of the volunteer society that owns and runs the hill.

“Last year was pretty good. This year’s a bit better with a lot more snowfall, of course.

“We’ve had good attendance with lots of kids and new families out.”

The society hasn’t crunched attendance numbers yet, but at a rough guess he said numbers are up 30 to 40 per cent. That’s good news for the society, which like all volunteer groups can always use funds.

The hill is open on Wednesdays from 7 to 9:30 p.m., Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. and Sundays and public holidays from 1 to 5 p.m.



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