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Medicine Lodge Ski Hill has big plans

T-bar upgrade and possibly snow making on wish list

Many consider the Medicine Lodge Ski Hill near Bentley a hidden gem.

The dedicated group of volunteers who run the hill are now looking to add a little more polish to the popular family attraction by upgrading its equipment and facilities and exploring options for year-round activities.

Medicine Lodge Ski Hill board chair Greg Chernoff went before Lacombe County council on Thursday to present a future vision for the hill and request $327,435 towards the cost of upgrades. The club hopes to contribute $100,000 through fundraising and grants.

The volunteer-led ski club has been running the hill for 62 years, but local skiers had already been drawn to its natural slopes 10 or 15 years before that, said Chernoff.

“It’s been growing and becoming an important part of our community ever since.”

In recent years, interest has been growing to do more to make the facility about 15 km west of Bentley a bigger draw and more than a winter decision.

A $100,000 master plan, funded by Lacombe County, Central Alberta Economic Partnership and Town of Bentley, found widespread local support for the facility and the prospect of doing more with it.

“(The master plan) has been an absolutely critical document for us,” Chern0ff said.

Besides drawing attention to the hill, there is now a clear-cut strategy on how to improve it.

Topping the list of necessary upgrades is the modernization of the T-Bar lift, which grinds to a halt a dozen times a day on average. Improvements to the ski lodge are also needed.

One of the most ambitious improvements on the wish list is the addition of snow making equipment to help extend the ski season. This past winter, the hill was only open for four days, which included a record-setting day that saw 265 skiers and snowboarders take to the slopes on opening day. There were about 30 days of skiing in the 2022-23 winter, but that followed a year with only three skiing days.

Before snow making equipment — which would likely cost $500,000 to $600,000 — is even considered the ski club wants to commission a hydrological to ensure there is an adequate water supply. The $25,000 cost would be part of the county funding.

The club, which has been receiving a few thousands dollars in annual support from Town of Bentley in the last few years, also hopes to eventually line up enough stable funding to cover $25,000 in annual operating costs.

Upgrading the facilities is only part of a strategy to improve the facility. The board hopes to recruit more volunteers and look into ways to diversify the site by adding walking and biking trails and picnic spots towards the goal of making the facility financially self-sustaining.

Chernoff said the facility is more than a ski hill.

“It really ties this community together.”

County council did not a decision on the funding request. Administration will first prepare a report with options that will come back to a future meeting for debate.

Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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