Hidden Valley Ski Resort

Then and now: Hidden Valley

Prairie island left by glaciers now a snow-covered ski oasis

JOANNE ELVES

Hidden Valley has been enjoyed by all since the beginning.
Photos provided by Esplanade Archives

MEDICINE HAT, AB - The highest point between mainland Canada to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west is a quiet little park that straddles the provincial boundary of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Cypress Hills Provincial Park is a bit of a geological oddity because it sits high above the surrounding prairies but does not owe its shape to plate tectonics, up-thrusts or folding of sedimentary layers like the mountains 300 kilometres to the west.

The last ice age that finally engulfed Alberta some 21,000 years ago carved and eroded the landscape but oddly, an island of land with rolling hills and deep valleys was missed. Roughly 16,000 years ago the ice started to recede leaving Cypress Hills 600 metres above the rest of the landscape. What does all that geological mumbo-jumbo have to do with skiing and snowboarding? To the folks in Medicine Hat and southern Alberta - everything.

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Only 68 kilometres southeast of Medicine Hat, Hidden Valley Ski Resort tucked into the trees of Cypress Hills Provincial Park has trails cut into the thick evergreen forest for every ability level.

Skiers at Hidden Valley in the early days.
Photos provided by Esplanade Archives

Mile High Ski Hill

Forget the last 16,000 years, our story starts back in early 1960s when local residents saw a nearby slope as the perfect place to throw down a toboggan. But we all know tobogganing is just a gateway drug for skiing. It wasn’t long before the Cypress Skiers Association installed a rope tow to take advantage of the natural glades. With an elevation 686 feet short of a mile, the association felt it was close enough. That was the beginning of the “Mile High Ski Hill.”

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By 1967, the skiers realized that only a short distance away was some pretty decent vertical. Shifting their base they took advantage of 700 vertical feet and installed a T-bar. With enthusiastic members like Leonard McGee (aka Mountain Man) they took to the forest and cleared several runs.

Hidden Valley's tow rope in the 60s.
Photos provided by Esplanade Archives

In 1981, the Fischer family took over the operations of the provincially-owned property and changed the name to Hidden Valley. In the ‘80s, the government invested in the resort, adding the quad and two handle tows. The Fischer’s oversaw the construction of the day lodge, added snowmaking and countless seasons of re-contouring, maintaining the trails, adding terrain parks, trails and fencing and well, everything. The terrain park sees a remodel at least twice each season to keep the shredders on their toes.

Ski racers prep for mountains

The resort may have snowmaking on 95 per cent of the trails but that is only to augment the annual snowfall average of 210 cm or 7 feet of natural snow. The resort is known for its consistently great snow, friendly atmosphere and terrain to learn on and to be challenged on. Each winter school groups from Southern Alberta learn to ski or snow board from the CSIA trained staff. The Elkwater Ski Racing team and the Snowboarding Club are ripping down their runs every weekend prepping for the trips to the mountains. The 2016 Alberta Games will return to Medicine Hat with Hidden Valley hosting the alpine events.

The town of Elkwater is just around the corner and offers lodging and other activities including ice fishing and cross-country skiing to round out a weekend of adventures.

At the end of the 2014-15 season, the Fischer family decided it was time to retire after 33 years of managing the resort. The Fischer’s will assist the Government of Alberta in the operations until a new management team is in place. There may be a changing of the guard but the resort will still be a snow-covered oasis in the middle of the prairies. Who would have thought a geological anomaly could be so much fun?

For more information about Hidden Valley, head to the official Hidden Valley website.

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