By Kevin J. Sabo For the Advance
A hidden gem nestled in a valley north of Castor on the border of Paintearth County and Flagstaff County is open for the season.
The Valley Ski Hill opened its doors for the 2020 ski season on Jan. 23rd, its snow-making aided with the frigid cold that braced the region the previous week.
“It kind of hurt,” said Manager Brett Andre.
“But it helped, too.”
The ski hill has a long and storied history in the region. Originally located in the Heatherly Valley northwest of town, the hill commenced operations in 1947 on the north slope of the valley.
The following season the club moved across the valley to, “Take advantage of a north-facing slope.
“The idea (for the hill) was Herb (Zinger’s) and my sister’s,” said Ardena Zinger, another of the founding members.
“We built it on the north side, and we had snow everywhere but on the hill.”
The ski hill remained northwest of Castor for a number of years, however it quickly became apparent that a “more accessible” location needed to be found. A new location was found in the river valley along the Battle River near Alliance prior to the 1962 ski season.
The new site had a “much higher drop” and “much higher access” than the previous site in the Heatherly Valley, making for better skiing and an increased opportunity for people to use the hill.
Access was further aided in 1963 when Hwy. 36 was moved to its current location, less than a kilometre from the entrance of the hill.
A new hill meant new equipment, and according to another founding member Lawrence Zinger, the Valley Ski Hill had the, “Fourth (tow) rope in Alberta” which allowed for people to easily reach the top of the slopes.
With a larger ski area and increased use, a new ski lodge was built in 1971, and in 1976 the capability for making snow was introduced, allowing for more consistent snow and a longer ski season.
A snow groomer was purchased in 1984, further increasing the capabilities of the club.
Unfortunately, the hill has been hit with some challenges over the years as well. The lodge was destroyed by a fire in 1989, though the community rallied and a new one was built. In 1997 the hill was hit by landslides near the top that have impacted available skiing areas. The slides have continued since, requiring a large amount of work by the staff and volunteers of the hill to keep the slopes in good enough shape to ski on during the year.
No long-term plan has yet been found, though options are being explored.
Currently, the Valley Ski Hill provides employment to nine staff members on a seasonal basis and operates Thursday through Sunday when snow allows.
The hill operates from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. all four days, and night skiing is available from 6 until 9 p.m. on Thursdays, and until 10 on Fridays. More information can be found at www.valleyskihill.ca.