DRAYTON VALLEY, Alta. – Instead of celebrating its 50th season of teaching local children how to ski, the hill in Brazeau County, southwest of Edmonton, is closed this winter.
A dispute between a landowner and ski club volunteers is preventing kids from hitting the slopes.
According to Reeve Bart Guyon, it’s a blow to a community hit hard by the struggling economy.
“We can’t afford to lose anything in this community, including our outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s just one less thing the kids have access to,” he said.
For decades, the ski club on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River has been accessed through a private road, now on Alvin Reich’s land.
Back in 1979, Reich struck a deal with ski club volunteers to grant access to the bottom of the hill.
“We got an arrangement going. But that’s a long time ago and things have all changed,” he said.
Things changed so much so that Reich chained up the club’s access gate and put up multiple “no trespassing” signs – effectively shutting down the hill.
For long-time ski patrol volunteer Dave Harrison, being locked out is upsetting.
“It’s really disappointing to lose a recreational facility like we have here. Particularly for the younger age group,” he said.
At issue were a number of things including insurance, cattle grazing, broken locks and summer land use.
“All I asked for is a copy of a liability insurance that would cover the part of property they use that’s mine. It never was delivered,” Reich said.
Ski hill volunteers said they understand why Reich made the request and tried to accommodate it.
“The insurance company assured us that they would get us a letter stating that. Unfortunately it was taking a while,” said vice-president Marilyn Kos-Horton.
With the sides failing to see eye to eye, negotiations ceased in the fall.
“I’ve felt all along that it was something we could work out. But it just hasn’t happened yet. We haven’t been able to get over that hurdle,” said Harrison.
The dispute has forced residents to drive to either Rabbit Hill in Edmonton or Marmot Basin in Jasper to ski.
“There has to be a way we can keep this ski hill open,” said Kos-Horton. “If we can’t access this road, it’s going to make it a lot more costly and a lot more difficult for us.”
Reich is also open to mediation: “If they’re willing to talk, I’m willing to talk.”
Now, the Brazeau County Council may get involved to help settle the dispute.
Administration has been directed to look into other access points for the hill and is expected to bring those options to the next meeting on Jan. 19.
Kos-Horton said both sides need to be ready to negotiate.
“This property is where he lives but the ski hill is where the community comes together.”
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