Searchmont Resort near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is reliably pummeled by lake-effect snow. And that’s only the beginning of the good news. Words :: Colin Field // sponsored by Sault Ste. Marie Tourism.
Nicknamed Ontario’s Powder Highway, the 556 just north of Sault Ste. Marie—the outdoor adventure capital of Ontario—is a true gem of the province. Pummeled by lake-effect snow (with a yearly average of ten feet or 300 centimetres), this is where you’ll find Searchmont Resort and Bellevue Valley Lodge. More importantly, you’ll also find a nearly guaranteed base of bottomless powder.
Searchmont has been around since 1957, but things began to change in 2018 when a new owner took over. COVID shut the resort down sporadically, but that never stopped investment.
The new owners, Wisconsin Resorts Inc., own and manage five other resorts in Michigan and Wisconsin. They saw the potential of the mountain experience at Searchmont; the vertical drop of 214 metres (702 feet) is taller than anything in their American portfolio and bigger than most resorts in Ontario.
Since taking ownership, the company has invested heavily to improve Searchmont. They replaced one lift with a new, faster one. They created a new beginner area with 600 feet of vertical and nothing but green runs off an entirely new chair. The Kiln, the new base lodge restaurant, is open with tons of delicious offerings and night skiing goes to 9 p.m.
“I’m guessing they’ve invested $15 million on the hill alone,” says General Manager Steve Spiessman. “We’ve also got 230 new fan guns across the hundred acres; that’s 3,000 gallons a minute of snowmaking, so we can make a foot of snow per acre every hour. That’s what guarantees our early openings.”
The confidence in an early opening is justified. In 2022 opening day was November 21; in 2023, an amazing November 24. And the seasons last longer, too: The 2022–23 season went right up until April 12.
“Every Ontario resort puts out their opening date—you know, December 8, December 9,” says Spiessman. “We put out November 24. The difference between us and everybody else is that we mean it. There’s almost nothing that would stop us from opening. We have all the advantages in the world here.”
As in real estate, those advantages are location, location, location. With the massive Lake Superior nearby, the region benefits from lake-effect snow like nowhere else in the province. And because of its northern latitude, it gets cold earlier in the Soo. “We’re guaranteed a snowmaking base mid-November and with about three good nights of snowmaking we can start to open things up here,” says Spiessman.
Spiessman started working at Searchmont in 2022, after a couple of decades of managing resorts in southern Ontario.
“I spent a lot of time in mountain operations and oh boy, these conditions here. I can’t describe how wintery it is,” he adds. “It’s always fresh. We just don’t have the thaw-freeze cycle. We don’t have those challenges with our snowpack. There isn’t boilerplate underneath. It’s great snowpack, top to bottom. It’s pretty easy to say that Searchmont has the best snow conditions in Ontario any day of the week in the winter.”
A passionate core of skiers and snowboarders make up the friendly scene of locals. With no lineups to mention—even on a busy holiday weekend—the locals are willing to share the stoke. “Lineups are non-existent,” Spiessman says. “We have four lifts across the hundred acres and 26 trails. Generally our lifts are full, but you pretty much ride in and get on the chair.”
His enthusiasm for the resort and the excitement from locals about the change is palpable. Everyone in Sault Ste. Marie is talking about Searchmont again. And everyone is skiing there. “Our goal is to become a premier destination resort and we’re gonna spend every bit of energy getting there,” Spiessman says. The whole region is becoming a premier, year-round destination.
And if you’re looking to ski somewhere other than Searchmont while you’re there (and you’re ready to earn your turns), nearby Bellevue Valley Lodge is a unique ski Ontario location. There’s nothing else like it in the province. For the last 30 years, Enn Poldmaa, along with his wife Robin MacIntyre and a group of skiers and snowboarders, have been glading the 2,000 acres behind their lodge. Dedicating 300 hours of clearing per season, they now have 20 runs, each with about 700 feet of fall line; powder turns here are almost a given.
With a great après scene in downtown Sault Ste. Marie—along with a thriving culinary scene, multiple microbreweries and great hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts—heading to Searchmont for a ski or snowboard trip is a no-brainer. Solid spots for après include the Northern Superior Brewing Company and Broers Jansen Wine Bar. The Breakfast Pig and Peace Restaurant are town favorites for breakfast and dinner respectively, but there’s plenty more to explore and discover.
“The north is beautiful. It’s absolutely fantastic up here,” says Spiessman. “I’m enjoying every minute of it. Everybody who comes here sees something special.”
There’s no doubt that you will, too.
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