Best little ski hill in Canada?
When the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) began planning its Wabush three-pit development and other changes to the mine, both the Menihek Nordic Ski Club and Smokey Mountain were told about the plans and how it would impact their operations.
For Menihek, parts of some of their trails were taken over by the mine and IOC provided new trails to compensate.
For Smokey Mountain, the deal included changes to the mountain that included new equipment and some changes to the trails. It was an ambitious project that finally got started in June of 2018 and was opened Dec. 23.
IOC commissioned designers to work on the project. The job of installing the new lifts went to Leitner Poma.
The project caught the attention of Elise Boeuf, a free-riding skier from the Burgundy region of France. She was hired as the project manager and arrived early in the summer eager to help with the transformation of the mountain.
“As a young person I loved building things,” she said. “I had a Lego set and started using that to build things. That made me consider civil engineering as a career.”
Now Boeuf works on projects during the summer and takes part in ski competitions in the winter.
Smokey Mountain president Toby Leon says it was an ambitious project, and as usual the late winter meant the project didn’t get underway as early as planned. Then in the fall the snow arrived early, which slowed the work a little as well.
“It was an interesting project that came with many challenges,” Boeuf told The Aurora. “There were streams and bog that had to be dealt with when installing the foundations for the lifts.
“For a lot of the workers on the project the flies were a little more than they expected.”
Leon said they were lucky to have Elise as the project manager.
“She is professional and dedicated to make sure the project was completed on time and one that members could be proud of, as well she was passionate about the community and enjoyed the outdoors here,” he said. “We hope she comes back to visit and ski at Smokey.”
Leon said different companies were tasked to do certain parts of the work but things went along “slowly but surely.”
In addition to the new lifts, there were some changes made to trails, so it was easier to connect to the different trails. And as most people have noticed by now, there is a significant glow from Smokey, that’s due to the installation of about 150 LED lights on the hill.
Leon said they are thrilled with the changes to the hill, funded by IOC.
“IOC is proud to have worked with Smokey Mountain to redesign the hill. IOC purchased and installed the new lifts and lighting,” IOC director of communications and external relations Heather Bruce-Veitch said. “Smokey will be able to co-exist with the operations of the new Moss pit with everything in place to ensure the safety of the hills users.”
The new sky track quad lift has the uphill capacity to take 120 people to the top of the mountain every six minutes. The old lift could manage 80 people in eight-12 minutes.
There are two poma lifts and the magic carpet. In all they give access to all the runs. There are now 26 runs at Smokey.
“One of the most significant things now is the fact that everything works so well, it’s all new — some of the old equipment was more than 50 years old,” Leon said. “People love the changes. They are excited about the hill, and we are busier than we have been in years, despite the fact that we’ve had some cold days.”
Leon noted they are getting new members and some former members are coming back. The new lift also gives a smooth ride to the top, and a spectacular view of the area. In some cases the lift is about 50 feet above ground.
The next big push at Smokey Mountain is to offer programming, which is expected to happen by next month.
“We want people to get out a learn to ski and snowboard, and do it well,” says Leon, so people can really enjoy the facility.
Leon also says a big incentive is a health credit system IOC has incorporated, where people can get $300 for participating in recreation, which could be applied to the ski pass. Details for employees are available through the company.
Leon says full details for rates for passes, rentals and other services are available at Smokey’s web site. www.skismokey.ca
The club is open on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. Social night is on Friday, and coals are on the barbecue. Soon there will be night skiing from 5-9 and on Wednesdays.
It’s an exciting time for Smokey says Leon.
Regular users are thrilled with the changes at Smokey Mountain.
Ski Patrol leader Jim Dobbin says he remembers skiing at the mountain from a young age, and when he used the new lifts and skied the hill it was like coming to a new hill.
“It’s an amazing facility, and the patrollers are loving it,” he said. “I hope lots of people come out and enjoy what Smokey has to offer.
Best little ski hill competition
Smokey Mountain president Toby Leon told The Aurora the company Volt fuse, which manufactures apparel for snowboarders and skiers, is having a contest to determine which is the best little ski hill in Canada.
They will be bringing a film crew to Smokey in April to do a documentary.
Along with Smokey there is a hill in Manitoba and one in British Columbia that are in contention for that honor.
But for now Smokey for most people is the best little ski hill you could have in your backyard. The hill is less than 10 minutes from their backdoor, and you can usually ski from December until April.