By ROY WOOD
Just a little bit more snow would help Mount Baldy considerably as it continues its quest to get back on the map as a serious player in the BC ski-hill game.
“Three-quarters of our terrain is open and we’re just waiting for a bit more snow to open the north side of the Eagle Chair,” area general manager Andy Foster said in an interview with ODN this week.
“We’re in a strong position. People are enjoying the conditions. It’s a little light on snow, but a bit more and we’ll be rocking along just great,” he said.
Foster pointed out that the area most people refer to as the “north side of Baldy” is a bit steeper and has more boulders than other areas and so it needs a bit more snow to be ski-able. On the runs that are open “we’ve had to mark a few obstacles,” he said.
The snow base at the top of the Eagle Chair is 100 cm. “We would prefer 120 or more at this time of year,” said Foster.
Snow boarder Alex Williams, interviewed this morning at the bottom of the Sugarlump Chair, said conditions are ”a bit rough in spots,” but with a touch more snow “it can only get better.”
The hill opened December 21 — a bit later than last season – because of the BC-wide lack of early snow.
As for numbers of skiers and boarders being attracted to the hill, Foster said: “We’re happy. We’ve seen a good winter season so far. … People are really engaged with us.”
The numbers of season passes is down from last year, but Foster explained that was expected as the prices move closer to realistic levels following loss-leader rates two years ago.
Following years of financial difficulties, Baldy did not open for the 2015-16 ski season. It was purchased out of receivership in June 2016 by Vancouver-based Baldy Mountain Resort investment group.
Part the hill’s marketing approach for the 2016-17 season were adult season passes for $199 and just $19 for seniors.
The scheme worked well. “It engaged a lot of people and let people know that we were open and that we’re back on the map here. It really engaged a lot of people,” said Foster.
“Obviously (season passes at those prices) is not going to sustain a ski resort for very long,” he added.
This season saw “early bird” prices of $329 and $169 for adults and seniors, rising to $459 and $239. “We’re still extremely good value and I believe we’re the cheapest in the area,” said Foster
One of the issues facing Baldy, Foster concedes, is the lack of accommodation on the hill. “What we hear is, ‘You’ve got a wonderful hill here, we wish we could stay.’”
Part of the solution is a 29-unit subdivision planned for land adjacent to the day lodge. Six units are designated as commercial and will be developed as condos or a hotel and the rest are private.
Foster said about half of them are sold and “and once we get to 80 per cent, we’ll go ahead with putting in the services and spending all that infrastructure money.”
Meanwhile, Foster said Baldy is attracting a few ski tour groups. “We actually brought in a couple of … groups (last year) who have gone to other mountains historically. … This year we’ve seen a couple more come on board. I had one group before Christmas and (there is) another group out of Vancouver coming in for a Family Day long weekend.
“We are seeing slow traction, but it is traction.”
The lack of on-hill accommodation means that tour groups have to stay in Osoyoos or Oliver, “which doesn’t look good compared to Apex or Sun Peaks,” conceded Foster.
But, with the glass-half-full enthusiasm of ski-hill operators everywhere, he points out that “we also focus on the benefits of the area. We are in Canada’s wine capital. And our price point is more competitive.”
Even the mostly un-paved road up the hill can be a positive, according to Foster. “Not being paved can be a benefit, especially if there is not much snow. You get that dirt kind of traction. … Some locals don’t want it paved.”
In the longer term, Baldy has signed a memorandum of agreement to become a training site for the Chinese national alpine ski team. It resulted from the efforts of Victor Tsao, lead investor in Baldy Mountain Resort, who has substantial contacts in China and in the Chinese Canadian community.
In an interview last spring, Tsao told ODN, “We have a long way to go and there a lot of tasks that we have ahead. At this stage we are picking our battles and concentrating our own manpower and resources on resort development.”
Foster concurs with the slow-but-steady approach to growth. “It’s all about baby steps. It’s all about taking the correct steps, not shooting too high, not being to audacious. … Just growing this company the way it should be grown.”
For Williams, who recently bought a condo on the hill and commutes with his four kids nearly every weekend from Penticton, Baldy remains an affordable family-oriented ski hill with good skiing and very short lift lines.