The time has come for southern Albertans to pack away their snow gear, switch ski poles for a different kind of metal rod: the golf club.
Spring conditions have finally arrived in the region, prompting one sport to kick off and the other to wind down.
Sunday marked the last day of the 2022-23 season at Castle Mountain Resort, an Alberta ski hill near the British Columbia border approximately 145 kilometres southwest of Lethbridge.
Cole Fawcett, sales and marketing manager at the hill, said this year marked an impressive feat. The season lasted 131 days, tying with 2020-21 for the longest season in the hill’s nearly 60-year history.
Thanks to an investment in snowmaking back in 2019, Castle’s operations have been able to continue even when mother nature doesn’t deliver.
“We got off to an exceptionally good start,” he said. “We had a tentative opening day of December 2, and we beat that by a week.”
While skiing and snowboarding seemed to boom in popularity following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as families looked to get outside, things seem to be leveling out.
Fawcett said mid-week attendance hasn’t been very high over the last few weeks, and they didn’t quite match the peak seen in 2021.
“We think we’re settling into maybe a new normal, both with respect to the length of our season and with visitation.”
Staff will continue working on the hill over the next several weeks to tear down fence lines and tidy up their affairs. The resort also hosts private events such as weddings during the off-season and the annual Huckleberry festival in late-August.
“It’s busy, it’s just a different kind of busy.”
The warmer weather is a welcomed sign for eager golfers in southern Alberta, who have been patiently waiting for snow and ice to melt on the greens.
Jae Maegaard, the head golf professional at Paradise Canyon Golf Club, said opening on Friday was a huge success with tee times maxed out.
“Opening day was awesome,” he said. “Being two three weeks behind from last year, you kind of feel the pinch a little bit.”
Plenty of members kept up their skills by taking lessons through the winter, and their indoor golf-simulator was well-used in its second year in service.
And more than just locals were hitting the links.
“With northern Alberta and anywhere north of Calgary — they’re not going yet and they’re itching to play,” he said. “We saw a mixture from everybody from out-of-town, our members, and people from around the community.”
Bridge Valley Golf also opened on April 7 and received a good response, according to manager John Livingstone.
He’s eager to see what the rest of the season holds after the sport also saw a spike in interest during the pandemic.
“We are optimistic for another successful year in 2023, of course we still have the capacity to bring on new golfers (especially) the young crowd,” Livingstone said.
“We welcome anyone and everyone to come down and try the sport out.”