by Leslie Anthony
I drove across the Great White North this summer. Whistler to Toronto, the long way around through Ottawa, some 5,000-plus kilometres, And one thing I noticed—aside from the spreading cancer/communion of Tim Hortons—is that Canada can be imagined as a connect-the-dots of ski areas.
They’re freakin’ everywhere, even where they shouldn’t or wouldn’t be if we choose their placement based on any form of rational commercial thought. And I’m not just talking about well-known “dots” like Whistler, Cypress, Apex, Red, Fernie or Castle Mountain that I passed along the way—though these obviously figure in. I more mean the dozens of community hills to be found anywhere gravity can roll a ball down an incline, whether mountainside, hillock or river valley. Many were installed as recreational diversions in mine or forest industry towns by dedicated practitioners (including several of the celebrated resorts listed above), and served not just those communities but Canadian skiing at large, sending male and female scions to national race and freestyle teams. As small, family or community-run entities, many have long since been shuttered by prevailing economics; some, like Manning Park on the height of land between Hope and Princeton, newly so. But the cut runs of most remain visible, etched in summer-green hillsides above the Trans-Canada or hovering off in the distance as a reminder of a national passion once second only to hockey (conjuring tales of the crossroads reached by many an athletic male Canuck who was forced to choose between the two). Of course there are plenty still in operation that one rarely, if ever, hears about. And yet they remain vital links between community, culture, geography and history. Places like big ol’ Mt. Baldy outside Osoyoos and little Pass Powderkeg in the Crowsnest. Improbable Hidden Valley in the Cypress Hills along the Alberta/Saskatchewan line, and another border destination, Manitoba’s Falcon Ridge just before you cross into Ontario. In that province you can count Loch Lomond in Thunder Bay, Searchmont in Sault Ste. Marie, Mt. Pakenham and Calabogie Peaks north of Ottawa, and a litany of tiny I’ve-never-heard-of-it hills along Highway 401 between Kingston and Toronto. The list, partial as it must be, goes on.
It all adds up to a cross-country sense of connection for skiers. For me, even in summer, runs fallowed or not, seeing those little blue or brown signs along the highway adorned with the white figure of a charging skier and an arrow pointing down some gravel road with a gnarly number of kilometres under it is as welcome a talisman as… well, as a Tim’s sign when I need a coffee.