Growing ski resort looks to boost numbers

Matthew Gauk
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A new kilometre-long run brings new meaning to skiing the Wapiti Way.

Growing ski resort looks to boost numbers

A new kilometre-long run brings new meaning to skiing the Wapiti Way.

The run is one of a number of renovations made to the Wapiti Valley Resort over the last summer season. It's the latest in a series of add-ons made over the last few years to turn what was once just the side of the Saskatchewan River valley by Codette Lake into one of the premiere winter destinations of north-central Saskatchewan.

"Who would have ever thought we'd get 28,000 (visits by) skiers a year?" wondered Dennis Wiebe, chairman of the Wapiti Valley Regional Park, as he gunned his jeep up the mountain of dried mud that will be the Dragon's Tail and Captain Hook runs in a little more than a month.

The regional ski and snowboard park north of Melfort is owned and operated by a 17-member board of local RMs, towns and villages. It employs around 40 people at the peak of ski season and has been in operation since 1982, when it was started by a local volunteer ski-cooperative.

"Somebody who came last fall, last year ... they're going to see a whole lot of changes," said Wiebe.

The southern portion of the hill was completely reworked with tons of earth moved about. Besides creating the one-kilometre green-blue Wapiti Way run, the $75,000 dirt-work also created an as-yet unnamed black run where an old handle-tow used to be.

To reach most of the runs on the southern portion of the hill, skiers and snowboarders used to have to take the quad-chair to the top, take off their equipment and walk over to where they wanted to go. For that reason, most visitors never bothered to make their way over to the south side.

"There's more ski-able terrain. The changes we made are to make it more accessible," said general manager Brent Freedman.

The bunny hill and snowboard terrain park - the latter added last year - have been extended about 30 metres. A $200,000 magic carpet lift is replacing the old towrope system, too.

"They're the biggest changes since we've opened, other than the quad (chair-lift)," said Freedman, a local farmer and "kingpin" of the renovations, as he banged away on the incomplete magic carpet lift with a hammer to get it ready for the December ski season.

"You walk onto it just like a conveyer belt in the mall. It'll take you from Zellers to Sears."

A $25,000 deck has been added to the chalet, which itself has been almost doubled in square-footage with a 2005 addition.

"We can put 250 kids through here in an hour. (It's) organized chaos," said Shaw, standing among the boots, poles and helmets in the expanded rental shop.

School groups are a big part of what they do at Wapiti, students on school-trips making up almost a third of their skiers and keeping them open during the week. Wiebe said the school-groups, which come as far away as Pelican Narrows, Flin Flon and many from P.A. and Saskatoon, are the best advertising they have.

"The kids get the parents to come ... if they have a good time, they'll come again," he said.

Shaw believes that a lot of skiers and snowboarders are coming back to the sport after long absences. Men and women whose children are getting to be five or six years old are hitting the slopes again, this time with the whole family.

Organizations: Wapiti Valley Resort, Captain Hook, Zellers

Geographic location: Saskatchewan River, Codette Lake, North-central Saskatchewan Regional Park Melfort Pelican Narrows Flin Flon Saskatoon

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