Above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation is proving a frustrating combination for the operators of the Summit Ski Hill.
“I won’t talk to you unless you promise to pray for snow,” joked Mike Webster, the vice-president of the Nakusp Ski Club Association, which operates the hill at Summit Lake, east of the village.
Though the opening day always varies at the community hill, the last few years have seen skiers on the slopes during the Christmas holidays. But unseasonably warm temperatures has kept the hill closed to date.
That’s been frustrating, Webster says.
“People are eager to get out. We had a record number of early-bird sales this year,” he says. Instead, the hill is losing out on a “critical” revenue period.
“It’s very important, especially considering we missed the Christmas break and being open over the holidays,” he says. “It’s an important time of year for our revenue.”
The hill finally opened Jan. 14, and they’re checking the snowpack regularly to ensure it’s safe.
However, Webster said it’s looking unlikely that the regular school trips to the hill will start until later this month. That important revenue source has also been complicated by the need to ensure COVID safety rules can be enforced.
Still, Webster remains hopeful.
“We’re getting set up, we’ve done quite a bit of grooming, the snow’s there but there’s not a lot of depth to it,” he says. “But we’re doing what we can with what we have. And as soon as we can, we’ll open.”
While it’s been an exercise in frustration for downhill enthusiasts, it’s a different story for cross-country skiing in the valley.
“The conditions are cold and hard, it’s sort of spring-like,” says Kip Drobish, the president of the Valhalla Hills Nordic Ski Club. “Spring conditions mean it’s been through a freeze-thaw cycle. It’s not powder snow.
“There’s not the depth we’ve had the last few years, but everything is groomed and nice and ski-able.”
His group has maintained about eight kilometres of track just east of Summit Lake for about four years. He says people are coming out to take advantage of the sport’s benefits.
“We’re up from 88 members from last year, we have 113 members at this time. Our kids’ program is as big as it’s ever been” says Drobish. “It’s gone up every year as people learn about the trail. That’s because it’s exciting, fun, and beautiful, and it’s a nice area.”
The good conditions are important for the club, which is looking to expand and improve the trail and their capacity to groom and maintain it.
Rail trail well groomed
The longest track in the area is also in great shape.
“We’ve been able to track from Slocan Park right to Slocan Lake,” says Helene Dostaler, the chair of the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society.
Conditions can vary wildly on the trail, with skiing starting some years as early as November, she says. This year it’s been late in coming, and the weather mixed, but enough of a base has developed to allow grooming to take place.
“It’s a going concern now, especially if you go north of Slocan Park,” she says.
Dostaler says there’s been one small benefit for non-skiing users of the trail. This winter, the society began clearing the trail in Crescent Valley, allowing walkers to enjoy the paved portion of the 60-kilometre track.