With every dump of snow, Kyle Rowell knows snowboard season is that much closer to reality at Hart Ski Hill.
As an instructor/maintenance worker with the Hart Highlands Winter Club, Rowell has already been riding the slopes on her snowboard and despite going great guns with the snow-making equipment, the city’s alpine ski resort still needs a bit more snow before it can open to the public.
The forecast is looking favourable for more white stuff to fall this weekend and Rowell anticipates skiers and snowboarders will be back enjoying the effects of gravity by the start of December.
“We don’t have a for-sure day yet, we’re still waiting for permits and stuff like that with our exciting new world,” said Rowell. “We’ve been able to make a ton of snow so far, so if things continue, December 1st will be a little less optimistic and become a little more realistic for us.
“We want to make sure everyone is aware of our new COVID policies and what we need the public to do to make sure we’re safe and they’re safe.”
Rowell said the big change will be masks will be mandatory. They must be worn at all times while riding or skiing, waiting in the lift line or in the lodge. She said the lift line has been redesigned to prevent crowds from congregating. People with any COVID symptoms are asked not to come.
The Hart Winter Club added snowmaking equipment in 2017, which dramatically extended the season to more than 100 days.
“We had a couple projects that allowed us to do underground water lies and had a ton of community support, so we’ve got hydrants over most of the hill now and with the hose and the groomer we can get snow wherever we need it,” said Rowell. “As soon as it’s minus-6 or colder we can make snow. If it’s cold enough, we’ll run it 24 hours a day.”
The Hart Snow School will be offering private ski and snowboard lessons. But group lessons have been put on hold due to the pandemic. The club has equipment for sale on consignment at the lodge until the end of November. More information is available at hartskihill.com.
Meanwhile, at Otway Nordic Centre on the western edge of the city, Nordic skiers and snowshoers are already using the trails, even though it’s not officially open yet. Grooming hasn’t begun but some of the tracks have been rolled to knock down the snow and create a base. Most of the trails are only a few centimetres shy of being ready for the snowmobile packers.
“We’re not officially open yet because it’s still pretty low coverage on the non-snowmaking areas and we’ve only been able snow-make for two nights so far,” said Caledonia Nordic Ski Club trials manager Mike Palangio. “We’re getting pretty close with the amount of snow but it takes a lot to fill in all the holes and stuff like that.”
Even after the overnight dusting Saturday morning, there’s only about five centimetres of packed snow on the trails right now, not enough to guarantee softer landings and coverage of rocky patches on the steeper hills.
“The problem is anything with any sort of elevation change, when people go to stop, any snowploughing will push that layer off and there’s not much impact protection when they actually fall,” said Palangio. “It’s more of a safety thing.”
The club expanded its snowmaking capabilities this summer which will allow up to four kilometres of coverage. Palangio fired up the snow guns for a couple days this week, concentrating on the stadium area near the lodge, where skier traffic is heaviest.
This is the third season the club has had snowmaking capabilities and the artificial snow near the lodge and the biathlon range helped extend last season well into April. The Otway trails officially opened last year on Dec. 7, right after the city was buried by a 30-centimetre snowfall. This year, the first 10 cm fell in mid-October and snow dumps have been smaller but more frequent than the fall of 2019. The forecast calls for colder temperatures by mid-week, cold enough for snowmaking, and Palangio is targeting next weekend for the club’s season-opener.
“We didn’t start snowmaking last year until the 28th of November, so we’re ahead of the game this right now,” said Palangio. “Last year we went from nothing to all kinds, but the little bit of snow we’ve been getting this year, that’s actually better for building a base because you’re compacting it in layers. It just firms it up a little bit more.
“I’d say we need another 10 centimetres and a good portion of our trails will be opened and ready for the public. It’s looking like it’s going to be a damn good year.”
Powder King Mountain Resort, near Mackenzie, is in the snow belt of the Pine Pass area Northern Rocky Mountain range and half of the runs are already open for the season on a 110 centimetre base. Powder King is 195 km north of Prince George.
Purden Ski Resort still needs more snow to begin its 50th season. Purden is about 64 kilometres east of the city off Highway 16.
Murray Ridge Ski Resort and Terrain Park, near Fort St. James, has set a tentative opening date of Dec. 19. The resort is 175 km northwest of Prince George.
For hikers who like to get out in a group to take in the backcountry on foot or on snowshoes, COVID has put a temporary clamp on the Caledonia Ramblers Hiking Club’s fall schedule of activities.
Provincial health orders issued Thursday forbid social gatherings of any size with anyone outside of core household or family bubbles, whether they be outside or inside. The province is still encouraging people to get outside to walk, but not in groups. Until provincial restrictions will allow groups of at least 12 people to gather, the club won’t be meeting for organized hikes.