February 24, 2010
The Hamilton Spectator
WHISTLER, B.C. (Feb 24, 2010)
City ski club pushes on, but it's long way to Chicopee, Kitchener
November 23, 2009
The Hamilton Spectator
(Nov 23, 2009)
Even though the Chedoke ski hill has been closed for six years, the steel ski lift towers remained -- for skiers, a reminder of the way things used to be, and might still be in the future.
The green-painted, aging towers and light fixtures offered the possible: skiing might return to a spot that was hailed 45 years ago as "Hamilton's own Sun Valley."
But that dream is being demolished and trucked away in pieces. The job has already begun, and will be likely finished this week. The towers are gone.
While diehard local skiers already knew it was unlikely the ski hill operation would return, the symbolism of ripping down the lifts was tough to take.
"It's heartbreaking," said Sandy Schwenger, who learned to ski at Chedoke and who is now a ski instructor and fundraising chair for the Chedoke Ski Racing Club. Their annual ski swap sale was held in the old Chedoke clubhouse over the weekend to raise money to support the club.
"The ski environment was fantastic here for families, a local place you could take the kids to," she said. "So many people in Hamilton learned to ski here."
For golfers, on the other hand, the removal of the towers seems long overdue. The 18-hole "Beddoe" course at Chedoke is one of the prettiest around, a classic layout by the famous designer Stanley Thompson that opened in 1942. No doubt Thompson did not account for ski lifts plunked in the middle of his escarpment jewel.
"It's been a sore spot for golfers over the years," said Chris Anker, the course superintendent for Chedoke and King's Forest.
But then even Anker felt melancholy seeing the towers come down.
"I grew up skiing there myself. It's the end of an era, it was a great facility for kids to learn at, but those days are gone now. It's sad to see it go, but economically it doesn't make sense to the city anymore to provide that service."
Chedoke was always a perfect learning hill, but also, thanks to the extreme nature of the escarpment, when the ski hill first opened, at the top it boasted the third-steepest vertical drop of any hill in Ontario.
In January 1964 mayor Vic Copps opened the new ski park and compared it to Idaho's famous Sun Valley resort. Chedoke was popular with locals for decades, but in the 1990s the city looked to the hill to cut back costs, and soon politicians talked about shutting it down. They finally did so in 2003.
Talk of bringing in a private operator or partnering with the Hamilton Conservation Authority to keep city skiing alive never bore fruit. (King's Forest golf course also shared space with a ski operation, but the ski hill shut down 20 years ago, and its ski lifts were removed.)
In the late 1960s, Canadian Olympic skiing legend Nancy Greene came to the city to open a run at Chedoke in her name. Last year, she returned to Hamilton for a Chedoke Ski Racing Team fundraiser and was upset to learn the entire hill was closed.
"She said if there was anything she could do to try and get it re-opened, she would help," recalled Brian Nason, the ski team president. "It put a tear in my eye to see the trucks up there taking away the towers for sure."
As it happens, the ski team has more than survived without the hill, even though members now have to drive nearly an hour to Chicopee ski hill in Kitchener to practice. The team also pays rent at Mount St. Louis Moonstone north of Barrie for use as its "home" hill at races.
The team boasts 50 racers, Schwenger said. (She added that they still have space for more racers for this season: chedoke-race.com).
One of the racers, 9-year old Emily Bourque, was at the ski swap. She munched on french fries in the old Chedoke clubhouse, while a truck sat outside waiting to haul away more of the lift equipment.
"No, I never skied here," she said. "That would have been pretty cool."