On Friday, Feb. 15th, the Canada Winter Games will officially commence. It is one of the biggest events to have ever been staged in Red Deer and will draw thousands of visitors and a lot of national attention to our community.
One of the key venues for the Games will be the Canyon Ski Resort and Recreational Area, a short distance east of the City limits on the banks of the Red Deer River. It boasts a vertical drop of 164 m (538 feet). With its 22 runs, six lifts and 80 acres of skiable terrain, as well as a tube park, it is the largest non-mountain family ski resort in Alberta.
The history of the Canyon Ski Hill goes back more than 60 years to 1958. However, the history of alpine skiing in our community actually goes back more than 85 years. On Nov. 15th, 1933, the first Red Deer Ski Club was formed. Approximately two-dozen ski enthusiasts got together to create skiing opportunities in the City. Plans were made to construct a ski jump and run on one of the hills surrounding the City.
A formal ski jump was never constructed. However, a small run or “slide” was created on the North Hill, approximately where the Parkland Mall is located today.
Unfortunately, the Ski Club had a number of challenges and went into a hiatus. However, on Feb. 10th, 1937, the Red Deer Ski Club was reorganized.
Improvements were made to the North Hill ski area. Unfortunately, there was no tow and skiers had to hike their way back up to the top of the hill after a run. Nevertheless, not only local skiers, but also others from around the province used the Red Deer ski hill. The Red Deer Ski Club also organized ski trips, usually to Mount Norquay in Banff, and the Edmonton Ski Club on Connors Hill.
Skiing activity slumped during the Second World War and immediate post-War period. Then, on Oct. 29th, 1956, a meeting was held to organize a new Red Deer Ski Club and to create a ski hill. A site was selected 6.5 km. (4 miles) northeast of the City. Membership fees for the Club were set at $2 for adults and $1 for children.
On Dec. 15th, 1956, the new hill opened. Unfortunately, this new site did not work out very well. Consequently, another site for a ski hill was acquired in the spring of 1957 in the Red Deer River Canyon. A rope tow was installed. A small temporary lodge (actually a double garage with a wood stove) was placed at the top of the hill.
The new facility, originally known as Crystal Canyon, was officially opened on Feb. 16th, 1958, by Mayor John McAfee. In 1959, a cinder block structure was constructed at the bottom of the hill with plans to add a two-storey log lodge on top of it at a later date. Because of tight finances, the log lodge was never completed.
The Crystal Canyon Ski Hill proved very popular. In 1964, the partnership, which had owned the facilities, was converted to a private company. A new T-bar ski lift was installed and additional land was purchased in 1966.
Canyon was one of the first ski hills to use artificial snow-making equipment. Because of the resulting extended ski season, the Canadian national ski team used the Canyon Ski Hill for training.
Other improvements and changes to ownership occurred over the following years. In 1973, the private company was turned into a public company with several hundred shareholders. A large new lodge was constructed and the facilities improved. However, with a number of financial problems, in 1977 the assets of Canyon Ski Lodge Ltd. were acquired by Red Deer Ski and Recreation Ltd.
There have been many changes over the last four decades. The Canyon Ski Hill has continued to improve. Free-style skiing has become very popular. Several international class free-style skiers have had their start in Red Deer. Snowboarding has also become very popular as has snow tubing.
In 2010, the Canyon Ski Area was purchased by the Kunc and Martel families and remains one of Canada’s few family owned and operated ski resorts.
In anticipation of the Canada Winter Games, more than $1.6 million in improvements were made, including new runs for aerials, moguls, slope-style skiing, ski and boarder cross, and big air events, as well as parallel and giant slalom.
Red Deer now enjoys, on the outskirts of the City, one of the very best ski and snowboarding facilities outside the Rocky Mountains. The Canada Winter Games will help to further publicize this wonderful winter sports asset.