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Optimist Hill prepares for 1st full season amid funding shortfall

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WATCH ABOVE: Optimist Hill is dealing with funding concerns – Nov 29, 2019

For the first time this season the snow cannons are being put to work at Optimist Hill in Saskatoon.

“We need -12, -13 [Celsius] temperatures then we can make snow 24-7,” Optimist Hill campaign project chair Robert Letts said.

It’s been a bit of a struggle for the hill since its launch in February — open for only 28 days, in large part because of record cold temperatures.

“We had put so much extra money into getting it operational for a hopefully two to three month period,” Letts said.

READ MORE: Optimist Hill in Saskatoon opens to the public

Now the hill is facing some shortfalls in its operating funding.

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“The amount of money we’ve had to continue to pay for our utilities — everything to maintain the hill — security, vandalism — we ran ourselves short,” Letts said.

“If we can get the hill open, the revenues will help.”

He noted running the hill is expensive.

“Case in point, we have a three-inch water line to get our snow guns to operate,” he said.

“That comes at over an $800 per month cost — even when we are not open.”

The Optimist Hill campaign works with the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Letts said the situation is so serious, he made the drive to Alberta three weeks ago to pick up all of the ski equipment.

“We couldn’t afford a courier company,” he said.

City Coun. Troy Davies raised the issue during budget talks this week. He requested $25,000 for the hill in 2020 and 2021.

READ MORE: Taste of Saskatchewan in jeopardy, city council votes ahead organics program

“Just to get them off their feet and running for the off-season,” Davies explained.

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“Once they’re up and running, they’re pretty much cost recovery with what they have going on.”

Davies said while it’s not run by the city, it is a city amenity.

He felt council needed to step in and help.

“We partnered with the optimist club on moving forward and giving them our full support,” Davies said.

“At the time they went out, 20 volunteers raised $1.85 million — the city is into it for just over $600,000.”

The recent funding from the city is critical, according to Letts.

“A few donors did not come through,” he explained. “That’s always the tough part of it — it’s a real let down in the 12th hour.”

Letts said the operation is still looking for volunteers and community support.

As for the hill itself, opening for the first full season is scheduled for mid-December.

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