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Community effort keeps Ski Cape Smokey open


INGONISH — A generation of people who grew up on the slopes of Ski Cape Smokey are now working hard to make sure the community's next generation are able to do the same.

Dalhousie University engineering students Ben Feltmate, Cole Campbell and Lauren Wooster were loving every minute of their weekend at Ski Cape Smokey. The trio even camped in a tent at the top of the mountain.

Now in its fifth year of operation as a community-run ski hill, dozens of community volunteers dedicate a big portion of their winter to ensuring the ski facility in Ingonish gets up and running.

To see a slide show of photos from Ski Cape Smokey from last Sunday, click HERE.

Tracy Samways, who was born and raised in Ingonish, said that from a young age the ski hill was a huge part of her life. She became a ski instructor at the hill in 1995, and now, 20 years later is serving as the volunteer ski school director.

"I have kids of my own now and the kids are our future so I want to get them skiing so that this place will still be here in another 20 years," she said

Fellow volunteer Kevin Dauphinee, who puts in long hours on everything from lift maintenance to grooming, said the local kids are what makes it all worthwhile.

"What motivates me to help out is seeing all the kids with smiles on their faces," he said. "It's a lot of work and hours put in before you open and it might get stressful but as soon as you open and the first kid comes down with a smile on their face, that's like a million dollars right there."

Larry Daupinee, chair of the Ski Cape Smokey Society, said the thoughts of his son Kevin and Samways are echoed by all volunteers at the site.

"I hear it over and over that the only reason they're here is for the kids," he said, noting the young people also really respect what the volunteers are doing. "I hear them all the time saying thank you, thank you, thank you."

Dauphinee said the volunteers run all aspects of the ski hill's operation from the kitchen and rental shop to operating the poma lift and doing the grooming.

"I never hear a complaint," said Dauphinee. "In the five years, I've never heard a complaint from these volunteers."

Ski Cape Smokey opened for the 2015 season Feb. 20. Their first weekend was hampered by a power outage one day and rain on another, but this past weekend the skiers and snowboarders were treated to sunny skies and ideal skiing conditions.

"Conditions have never been better. We've been blessed  with some great snow, we're 100 per cent natural snow. It's been an excellent weekend, one of our best weekends in a long, long time," said Daupinee, noting they had people at the hill from Halifax, Antigonish, and a big contingent from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality who were in the area for hockey and took time to hit the slopes as well.

The hill currently has its poma lift in operation giving skiers access to the lower half of the mountain. And while the quad chairlift hasn't been in operation since the community reopened the hill in 2011, Dauphinee said that hasn't been stopping people from walking from where the poma lift ends to the top to get in a few runs on the upper trails.

"The powder skiing is just phenomenal up top so there's a lot of people coming and doing that," he said.

Dalhousie University engineering students Ben Feltmate, Cole Campbell, and Lauren Wooster were among those doing just that. In fact the trio camped out in a tent at the the top of the mountain for the weekend, soaking up the views and taking in a unique ski experince.

"This place is amazing. I didn't even know it existed up until about two weeks ago and it's amazing. There's so much powder," said Feltmate, noting they plan to return with more friends later in the season.

"The quality of the snow, it's like skiing out west," said Campbell. "If you want the most extreme skiing this side of Quebec you've got to come to Smokey."

"The trails here are really nice, it's like big-mountain skiing," added Wooster.

And its those kind of reviews that the Ski Cape Smokey Society hopes spread far and wide, as the ultimate goal is to have a private operator take over the hill.

"A private investor is the key to it. We need accommodations at the bottom of the hill. It's gotta be a destination resort," said Dauphinee, a Victoria County councillor. "The potential here is phenomenal."

Likewise, Samways dreams of the day that the hill is running at full operation and peak capacity once again.

"We need our chairlift running. It's great what we're doing here but it's just not the same as it used to be. I was born and raised here, I grew up here at the lodge and I have a lot of people coming in and saying that it's a sin to see the chair sitting there and to have the potential for it to be more," she said. "It's a little bit heartbreaking, but at the same time we're making the most out of it and we're doing what we can."

 

 

 

 

ljgrant@cbpost.com

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