By Andru McCracken

Valemount’s Economic Development Officer Silvio Gislimberti is at the centre of a relatively new push to start a small community ski hill within the footprint of Valemount Glacier Destinations, a massive ski-sightsee project approved for construction but delayed due to lack of investor interest to date.

Gislimberti said those working on the community ski hill do not want to create false expectations, as much work remains.

“The Valemount Ski Society (VSS) has not yet obtained any permits to operate a tow-bar or a community ski hill and no funds have been guaranteed for capital costs,” said Gislimberti.

Further he said the community ski hill will not be operational for the 2020/21 winter.

The society is consulting with the Simpcw First Nation and the permit holders, Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd., in order to obtain consent to start and run the hill.

“The society is also in the process of obtaining permits from the Mountain Resorts Branch of the Province of BC,” he said.

The community has applied for a bridge over the McLennan River, 3.6 km west from Valemount’s airport, that would facilitate access to year-round outdoor recreation opportunities at the base of Mount Trudeau and also improve access to the Valemount Community Forest tenure area.

The grant application to build the bridge was submitted to the Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP) on October 28, 2020.

“Results may be expected early 2021. If approved, preliminary work and construction could start in early summer 2021,” he said.

Necessary work includes grading the existing road to the bridge location, site preparation, a geotechnical study regarding the bridge abutments, an archaeological survey of the bridge site, construction support and post construction monitoring, bridge design, site prep of a small parking area, signage and a kiosk.

Gislimberti said the project would provide 20 full-time equivalent jobs during the construction period and create 200 full-time equivalent positions in the tourism and service sector.

“This project is of significant importance for Valemount’s tourism and service sector because it will create an additional access to natural experiences— stunning views of Mount Robson from the Premier Range—and it will attract more provincial visitors to Valemount and increase the length of stay for specific visitor target groups,” he said.

He said in partnership with the North Thompson Valley Marketing Committee and the Robson Valley Region, Valemount will be able to promote the ski hill to BC and Alberta visitors, namely to the “Suburban Sports and the Backcountry Boomers” market segments, who represent 10% of BC’s travellers, some 488,128 individuals.

“This project is in alignment with the North Thompson and Nicola Valleys Destination Development Strategy and the Robson-Canoe Valleys Economic Opportunities Plan. Both strategies show the need for creating compelling visitors’ experiences by matching new tourism products—easy access to the backcountry for hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers—with new consumer interests.”

He said that the society hopes to approach council to see if they would be willing to apply for a Tourism Dependent Communities Fund to purchase a used T-bar or button lift and board members are exploring what is available for used T-bar lifts.

He said the Ski Society has decided to focus on the area below the existing McLennan River logging road because of the potential to connect to power and to minimize patrol duties and avalanche risks.

“Backcountry skiers may also benefit from the proposed T-bar because this will shorten the access to the Mount Trudeau area,” he said.

Gislimberti said running a community ski hill would depend on local volunteers to offset operational costs but there is a business plan for the ski hill.

Gislimberti said costs would run between $800 to 1,000 per day including honorariums for ticket takers, 2 ski patrollers, and 2 lift operators, power running the lift (diesel, and later electricity) and a few hours of grooming operations. In the business plan, Gislimberti said tickets would go for $20 per day.

“To break-even on operational costs, every local skier needs to buy a year pass for approximately $100,” he said.

Society president Joe Nusse said that logging will have to commence next year because a bridge on the Westridge Forest Service Road was compromised due to heavy rain.

He said the society plans to use the intervening time constructively, creating a comprehensive operations manual and using the time to obtain permits.

“We will take this extra time to consider other on-site developments and amenities that will add to the experience. At this point the Valemount Ski Society is looking forward to hearing back from the Grant Committee regarding the application for a bridge over the McLennan River.”