Standing on the western edge of McCreary, Alpine Archie clutches his downhill skis and looks out over the slopes of Riding Mountain National Park.
The village’s signature statue was erected in the 1970s, a decade when Mount Agassiz Ski Hill was a thriving winter tourist attraction in rural Manitoba, and the farming community enjoyed considerable economic spinoffs from thousands of annual visitors.
But small ski hill businesses took a dive in the 1980s and 1990s, as rural populations thinned and the skiing became a more capital-intensive sport.
Mount Agassiz struggled too, and by 2000 it was all over. The ski hill went out of business, leaving behind a lodge, chairlifts and other infrastructure at the site.
McCreary mayor, Linda Cripps remembers the impact the closure had on the local economy; businesses that depended on those visitors also went downhill.
“That wasn’t totally the reason but it (the ski hill closure) played a part in it,” she said.
“We used to have two grocery stores, three at one time. Restaurants were busy. We had three, maybe four when the ski hill was busy. We had two gas stations. We’re down to one now.”
Cripps and other regional stakeholders are hopeful new jobs and revenue might emerge from a year-long Parks Canada process launched this summer that calls for proposals for reopening the ski hill.
“I’m very hopeful that something will reopen,” said Cripps. “It won’t bring back what we lost. But I think it would help what we still have.”
It’s been a long, uphill slog for ski hill proponents so far, however.
In 2007, a Parks Canada’s Riding Mountain National Park Management Plan said it would no longer grant additional leases to operate the ski hill site, and slated the area for rehabilitation.
But proponents asked for a closer look into the matter and a feasibility study was commissioned. That study concluded that reopening the Mount Agassiz Ski Area would be challenged by limited markets, competition from existing ski hills, and high capital and operating costs.
But public consultations also revealed enduring interest to see the site reopened, and considerable expressed interest in being able to assess the risks and opportunities of doing so. In June 2012, Parks Canada amended its management plan to allow consideration of proposals for redeveloping the site.
The amendment states that Parks Canada will “consider financially sustainable proposals for the redevelopment of a ski hill operation at the Mount Agassiz Ski Area, including multi-season recreational activities.”
Parks Canada launched its Request For Proposals (RFP) process in August 2013.
The entire RFP process will take one year, with proponents given nine months to submit their proposals, after which Parks Canada will review submissions over the following three months.
Information for registering and obtaining the Request for Proposals package is available by contacting Riding Mountain National Park or logging on to Parks Canada website http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/mb/riding/plan/plan15.aspx.