Monday, February 23, 2009

Skiing and Victoria

This last weekend I was up at Mount Washington with the Scouts. It reminded me how much I love to ski and how far Victoria is from a ski hill.

In my teens I earned money so that I could go skiing. I would ski about twice a week from late November through to early May, about 50 times in a season. All of this came to an abrupt end when I went to UVic for university. The end happened in part because I could no longer afford it, but more because Victoria is so far from any skiing and lacks much of a skiing culture.

Living in Tsawwassen, I had seven ski hills within a two hour drive. From Victoria there was only Mount Arrowsmith and I could not find anyone in the 1980s willing to make the trek up the road there.

Vancouver Island has a population of 730 000 people. We have two ski hills, Mount Washington and Mount Cain near Woss. Mount Cain is four and half hours from Victoria.

The Okanagan/Thompson region has about 400 000 total population and has nine ski hills! More if you look to the Kootenaies or Manning Park.

We have some suitable mountains on the south end of Vancouver Island for a ski hill. Realistically a ski hill would have to have a base elevation of over 1100 meters, ideally 1250 on the south end of the island. I good hill needs a minimum of 300 to 400 meters of vertical. Using these numbers, here are some locations I think would work:

First off there is Mount Arrowsmith, a former ski area. It has a higher elevation than Mount Washington and looks to have enough vertical.

Secondly, Mount Whymper on the Chemainus river has an elevation of 1541 meters. Mount Landale on the south side of the river is slightly lower, but looks like it has the location for a ski hill.

Third there is Marion Creek off of Hwy 19 just past Sutton Pass on the way to the Ucluelet and Tofino. The valley has enough elevation on the peaks.

Fourth would be Mount Klitsa which is just south of the western end of Sproat Lake. Both these last two locations suffer from not being close to at least 100 000 people.

On the north eastern edge of the Alberni Valley there is Mount Apps which is used for cross country. Slightly to the south is Mount Joan peaking at just over 1600 meters, though the I am not sure terrain works. It might better terrain coming from the east side via Roaring Creek.

There are some interesting areas near Tahsis and Gold River, but both are rather remote for the vast majority of people to get to. The upper end of the Conuma River looks very promising, but this is not close to anyone.

Between Mount Washington and Strathcona park there is Alexandra Peak and Mount Adrian. The southwest slope of Alexandra Peak looks like very good terrain. Access would be from the Cranberry junction on the Island highway. Proximity to Mount Washington would be a problem.

Forbidden Plateau is in this area and was a ski hill. The hill closed and the buildings burned. Could someone make a go of it now?

Mount Cain sits at the edge of Schoen Lake park and in the heart of some decent hieght mountains in the centre of the island. The area has a huge potential for a skiing area much bigger than it is, the problem is that we are getting to far from the skiing public.

In the end, I would love to see at least one ski hill developed close to Port Alberni and one near Mount Landale on the Chemainus. There is the interest on the island to sustain them as ski hills.


Ted Godwin said...

So... what you are saying is this region needs a couple of environmental nightmares disguised as playgrounds for the rich? ;)

It seems to me the market has spoken. We don't have a "ski culture" because we don't have winter. We have an outdoors culture that enjoys far less expensive (monetarily and environmentally) outdoor pursuits. It does not sound like a good investment to build ski resorts in today's economy. BTW I don't think they build ski hills anymore, they build resorts with condos and hotels etc.

Bernard said...

some quick responses

1 - Neither Vancouver or Seattle have winter yet have a skiing culture

2 - Skiing is not anymore expensive than most outdoor red options such as kayaking, sailing, rock climbing etc..

3 - Ski resorts are not major environmental problems, in fact they are beneficial because they concentrate outdoor rec prusuits. They are now built as to have a minimal impact. Which resort do you think is an environmental disaster?

4 - More skiing options a mean more people getting exercise and being outside

Ted Godwin said...

1 - No, Vancouver and Seattle have a critical mass of population that supports skiing by a small minority. The numbers might go up somewhat if there were more opportunities but comparing the coast to the Okanagan is apples and oranges, or in this case, skiiing to ocean kayaking. :)

2 - I would dispute your claim that the cost for rock climbing is comparable to skiing. You also left out hiking, cycling and canoeing which are, I believe less expensive overall than downhill skiing.

3 - Perhaps this is my perception but I see ski resorts as major environmental problems due to habitat destruction on site (usually on Crown land or a park) and in road construction and the ongoing problem of increased vehicle traffic since the only access would be by car or buses. Build a rail system and I have less of a problem.

4. A small minority of wealthy people being given a recreational opportunity is not "people getting exercise and being outside". Those who can afford such things are likely already participating in costly outdoor recreational activities.

To be fair I agree that a couple of more ski hills would probably be appropriate for the Island but I would like to see them made accessible and affordable to average residents. My fear, as alluded to before, is that the only way these things get built nowadays is on the condos and resorts model rather than the community asset model.

Bernard said...

I do think that there is a critical mass on the south end of the Island to support more skiing. Another hill near Woss makes no sense no matter how good the location.

The cost of skiing is not dramatically more than canoeing - canoes are much more expensive than ski gear though you do not have the lift costs.

For a family of four to go skiing four times in a winter would cost about $900 for the lift tickets, $150 for fuel and $200 to $250 for gear per year - kids need new gear more often and drive up this cost. That is about $1250 for the year. This family could get a seasons pass to Mount Washington for $2000 - this pays for itself if the family is on the mountain more than ten times.

Cable bill for that same family is about $400 to $800.

A trip to Disneyland will run that family about $3000.

Skiing is still a reasonable sport for an average family to take part in.

As to the habitat destruction - ski hills have a very small footprint. The area of the runs is minimally impacted and still supports wildlife habitat. Most ski hills are located in non-critical areas of habitat - they are not in the low elevation valley bottoms.

The ski hill is one of the best ways to concentrate humans in the outdoors. The winter also means there is a protective layer of snow over the ground and most of the wildlife is not using the area intensively.