By Barry Stewart
Last winter, B.C.’s coastal ski hills were dealt a cruel blow, when rain and warm temperatures forced them to severely scale back operations. At Hemlock Valley, north of Harrison Mills, they didn’t even open.
A few degrees colder than coastal mountains, Manning Park Resort was able to sneak through last winter — but this season has seen a huge improvement at both ski hills, with snowfalls perfectly timed for the Christmas break.
Hemlock’s director of operations, Sam Hicks said on Sunday, “We went from a worst-case scenario last year to the best season I’ve seen in my ten years here.
“It’s the best in skier numbers and in conditions,” said Hicks. “We had seven days straight of early-season snowfall, which has allowed us to flourish in the past 17 days we’ve been opened. We set daily and weekly sales records over the holiday season.
“It’s a very exciting time. Our parking lots have been jammed, so people have been parking farther down the road. At the tube park, we’ve been seeing 500 to 600 tubers a day, which is phenomenal.”
Hemlock is a 20 to 25-minute drive from the #7 Highway turn-off at the Sasquatch Inn. Chains aren’t always needed — but the Ministry of Highways requires them to be carried during the winter.
Hicks said their market is basically from east of the Port Mann Bridge. “’Fantastic Family Fun’ is our slogan,” he added. “We’re kid friendly — and we even have a beginner chair, the Whistle Punk chair.”
Hemlock had its lights on nightly for skiing till 8 p.m. throughout the Christmas break but will be scaling that back to Fridays only. The hill is now closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
If the cost of skiing has kept you off the hills, Hicks wants you to know about Hemlock’s Friday Night Lights program. “A family of four can ski for $20 from 4 to 8 p.m. every Friday.”
Their website is hemlockresort.ca.
Manning’s marketing director, Robyn Barker said, “It has been an awesome start to the season. We opened two weekends earlier than planned, November 28, due to the amount of snow — and the skiers and snowboarders that were itching to get on their boards.
“Our base is around a metre and a half at the moment, with clear and cold conditions. We were having Powder Alert days (over 10cm) for almost a full week at the beginning of the holidays, and now we’re loving the cold, dry powder and smooth groomed runs.
“I’m pretty sure our lodgings were full through the break. Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for sure. People are already making their reservations for next season.”
Barker said the majority of their customers come from Langley, eastward, though resort staff’s attendance at ski shows in Bellingham and Seattle — highlighting the favourable exchange rate — has been attracting American guests.
“There’s more snow in the forecast next week, and we’re open 7 days a week for the rest of the season. Alpine is open 9 to 4 every day until April 4 and Nordic and snowshoeing will go on as long as there’s snow.
“We’re celebrating a big year in 2016,” added Barker. “It’s E.C. Manning Park’s 75th anniversary, and we’ll have different events throughout the year that will highlight the park’s history, ecological diversity and the abundance of recreational opportunities in the park, culminating in the 75th birthday party on July 16, 2016, which is also Canada Parks’ Day.”
The resort’s website is manningpark.com.