Finding the Biggest Little Hill January 2, 2020 – Posted in: News, Photos

Words by Alex Henniffent

Photos by Emily Christie

Falcon Ridge Ski Slopes

Manitoba’s Falcon Ridge — small in size, mighty in character.

Sometimes, less is more. Especially when it comes to ski hills.

Disregarding the amount of vertical feet, number of chairlifts, or however many park features a resort may have – there are things that the smaller-scale hills offer that the bigger guys simply cannot replicate. And I’m not just talking about the obvious things.

Sure, lift lineups are nearly nonexistent and the cost of lift-tickets are at a fraction of the cost, but there are deeper-level traits and quirks that these “hidden gems” possess. Intangible and seemingly insignificant, but each collectively essential in making these hills truly foreign when contrasting them to the average person’s definition of a ski resort.

Last winter, a group of us traveled across Canada to visit three relatively unheard-of, rurally located, and notably unique ski hills. We were searching for hills that were big in spirit, but little with regards to their physical magnitude and visitation numbers. Basically, we were scouring through all of the overlooked nooks and crannies of Canada to find some of the biggest little hills.

On this journey, our goal was to produce a video series that explored where others have chosen not to – or simply didn’t know existed – while capturing the rich experiences, unique personalities, and the thriving communities that have formed within and amongst these average, run-of-the-mill locations.

The three hills that we had set our sights on were Baldy Mountain, BC; Falcon Ridge, MB; and Smokey Mountain, NL. Through these selections, we had all of the checkboxes ticked – a mighty yet unrewarded mountain from the west; a culturally enriched, glorified lump within the interior flatlands; and an open-pit mine in the far east that ran its own ski lifts.

Perhaps it’s just me being a rebellious, young-at-heart snowboarder, but there’s definitely something refreshing about stumbling upon a ski hill that naturally embraces an “anything goes” mentality. From self-launching ourselves on an unmanned ski lift to pouring our own beers in a lodge that followed an honor system, there really is no way to reasonably compare these smaller-scale hills to their much larger, corporate counterparts. It just wouldn’t be fair to the big guys.

Aside from the fact that these smaller-scale hills serve a critical role in providing accessibility and introducing newcomers to our sport, they also incubate some of the most fascinating and interconnected communities that I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. Quietly tucked away from mainstream influence, these were places in which like-minded people routinely gathered to celebrate and make use of what they had at their disposal, rather than fret over what they had lacked. Places in which local heritage and traditions have seamlessly been preserved and preached.

“I got my first job at Falcon when I was 15, and I’m still here.”

The interesting thing about the people who typically frequent these ski hills is that they made a conscious decision to remain loyal to their native territories, unlike those who had relocated elsewhere in search of bigger and better. People who have harnessed their local surroundings for all that they were worth, and then applied a labour of love to effectively make things work.

The focus for each of these hills was to simply maximize the time that its local patrons could spend on snow. Even if that meant having everyone drop a toonie into a peanut-butter container just to entice a lifty enough to run the chair for another day. These underdog ski hills have the unique ability to improvise and embrace a DIY mindset, and I believe that this is ultimately what allows them to serve their local needs in such an effective and meaningful way.

After a winter of gaining an inside glimpse into places that I would have otherwise never known to exist, one thing has become evidently clear. You don’t need a huge mountain to enjoy snowboarding. Less is more. And I say this because having less inevitably pushes you to be more creative, resourceful, and appreciative with what you do have access to – which is exactly what each of these three hills have done. It’s not a matter of the terrain that’s available or the amenities that are sprinkled around it, but rather the people, their attitudes, and the collective personality of the community that truly distinguishes a ski hill.

Discover each of these hills in our upcoming Biggest Little Hill video series:

  • Jan. 15, 2020 — Falcon Ridge, MB
  • Feb. 19, 2020 — Baldy Mountain, BC
  • Mar. 18, 2020 — Smokey Mountain, NL