Time running out for deal on Canyon Ski Area

Red Deer’s ski hill faces closure after a joint sales bid by the City of Red Deer and Red Deer County is in question.

Snowboarding instructor Garrett Aucoin gives Brooklynn Capton some instructions as she prepares to slide down the bunny hill at Canyon Ski Hill on Tuesday. Capton joined her classmates at Gateway Christian School in Red Deer for an afternoon of skiing and snowboarding.

Snowboarding instructor Garrett Aucoin gives Brooklynn Capton some instructions as she prepares to slide down the bunny hill at Canyon Ski Hill on Tuesday. Capton joined her classmates at Gateway Christian School in Red Deer for an afternoon of skiing and snowboarding.

Canyon Ski Area, one of Central Alberta’s most prized recreation areas, could close forever this spring because no solid offer to purchase the hill has been made.

Lorraine Martinek, one of the eight owners of Canyon, announced on Tuesday that the Red Deer area hill will close at the end of its 42nd ski season if a new owner/operator isn’t found.

She said there are no offers at present, but the current owners are committed to exploring all avenues in order to keep Alberta’s largest non-mountain ski area running.

Since last April, the City of Red Deer and Red Deer County have been trying to buy the 240-acre property and turn it into a year-round recreation area. The land was put up for sale after the hill operators, Lorraine and her husband Karl, said they wanted to retire.

The sale price hasn’t been revealed, but the land was earlier listed at $3.1 million.

Martinek said the city and county asked for more time in September to pull an offer together.

“But we feel it’s imperative that we let the public know that this is our last season,” she said. “There is no offer at this point . . . to the best of our knowledge, there is not an offer coming from them.”

Martinek said she only recently heard that the city and the county probably wouldn’t be coming back with an offer.

“We’ve heard from them that they wouldn’t be purchasing Canyon,” she said.

If there are potentially others interested in buying Canyon, this would be the time to see it when it’s running, Martinek added.

But city and county officials stressed that a deal with the owners of Canyon hasn’t fallen through and that everyone involved is still talking, so there is still hope.

County Councillor Reimar Poth, a member of the negotiating committee working on an offer, said they are seeking the best long-term solution for everyone involved.

“Is the only option to purchase it or are there are other alternatives out there? We believe there’s other alternatives out there. And quite probably over the next, I’m going to say couple of weeks, those alternatives should be public.”

Poth said he can’t disclose what those alternatives are at this stage, but he noted that various private-public arrangements have been made on everything from waste management to road construction.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said he understands options are being explored with the county.

“I’ve had no communication from anybody that we’re not,” he said.

Four members of the Martinek family, including Lorraine and Karl, are partial owners of company, Canyon Ski and Recreation Ltd. Four other local residents own the property as well.

Karl Martinek began running the hill, located 10 minutes east of Red Deer, in 1968. Lorraine started helping out two years later.

Since then, Canyon has grown into a family-run business and includes general manager Sonia Hand, the oldest daughter of the Martineks.

Although it’s uncertain whether Canyon will survive, the hill is experiencing one of its best seasons ever. The hill boasts more than 160 metres of vertical over 13 runs, with five lifts.

Skiers and boarders have flocked to the slopes, thanks to a bounty of early snow and current mild temperatures. The Martineks also made improvements to the snowboard park, snowmaking system and downstairs lodge.

“We did a lot of work this season because we wanted to make sure things were in good shape,” Martinek said.

With such a hectic season, the Martineks realized they aren’t as young as they used to be and that they are making the right decision to retire.

The season normally runs from November to late March or early April.

Martinek hopes the hill will open for the 2010-11 season, saying that otherwise Central Alberta will lose a solid investment.

“I know it will be very sad,” Martinek said. “There isn’t a lot of winter recreation activities around Central Alberta — we do around 40,000 to 50,000 snowboard and skier visits in a season, so they’ll have to find something else to do. I think we keep young people occupied in a healthy way.”

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