Changes are coming in an attempt to give new life to a local ski hill.
Ski Cape Smokey provided an update on Thursday on new development plans at the Ingonish facility, which will include the building of a new lodge as well as the creation of a treetop walkway and the installation of a gondola.
Martin Kejval, project manager for Cape Smokey Holding Ltd., told the Cape Breton Post on Friday preparations are currently underway for the project, which will cost roughly $25 million and is expected to be completed by July 1, 2021.
“We started digging holes for the foundation for the gondola at the top of the hill and we’re working on the foundation for the treetop walkway,” said Kejval. “The community has been showing us overwhelming support for the project and we want to keep up the expectations and deliver on what we want to do.”
Cape Smokey Holding Ltd. purchased the hill from the province in 2019 for $370,000. The development group, led by New York-based developer Joseph Balaz, has invested about $110,000 in improvements at the location.
Despite COVID-19, the group is optimistic to have the foundation work for the project completed by the end of September.
At the time of the purchase, Kejval said it was obvious the group needed to make changes to the resort in order to improve and modernize the facility.
“The skill hill was not functional… the lodge was in poor condition,” he said. “Basically, we have to take everything that was there and replace it with something new.
“The local community did a fantastic job trying to preserve it as much as possible, but with the lack of funds, it’s very difficult to do that, so we decided to rebuild everything fresh.”
The new lodge, which is expected to feature a microbrewery, will be built approximately 50 to 80 metres below the location of the current lodge.
Meanwhile, the gondola will be the first in Atlantic Canada.
Leitner-Poma Canada, an Ontario-based company, has been awarded the contract to complete that portion of the project. The company is one of two specializing in such construction and has built gondolas and chairlifts in various parts of the world.
Along with the new additions, Kejval told the Post the group is planning to increase the length of the ski hill by 100 metres, a project which is expected to take about three years to complete.
“Work has started, but it’s a very time-consuming project,” said Kejval. “There’s a lot of loose gravel and soil and all of that has to be excavated and replaced with something stable, so introducing longer runs in the future is something customers will have to wait for.”
Kejval didn’t provide the estimated cost for the project.
“The community has been showing us overwhelming support for the project and we want to keep up the expectations and deliver on what we want to do.” — Martin Kejval
When it first opened, Ski Cape Smokey was a premier ski resort destination in Atlantic Canada, offering as one of the country’s most scenic ski facilities.
For the past decade, the facility had been operated by a group of volunteers with little capital for projects, prior to the sale last year.
As for this past season, the ski hill opened on Jan. 3 and ran until it was forced to close in mid-March once provincial restrictions were put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“We were very fortunate and proud that we were able to open at the same time as the other ski resorts,” said Kejval. “We had lots of great events, including ski-doo races, so we’re pleased.”
One of the bigger accomplishments for the season was the ski hill's ski-and-school program, which saw four schools visit the facility six times, introducing close to 300 children to the sport.
“About 85 per cent of the students never skied before, so we’re proud to have been able to teach them more about the sport,” said Kejval. “It was an opportunity to introduce them to a different sport and one they may enjoy.”
With the uncertainty of the 2020-21 ski season because of the pandemic, Kejval said Ski Cape Smokey is working with other ski resorts regarding protocols for the season, however, no details are currently available.
For now, Ski Cape Smokey is planning to launch a new website within the next month and also hopes to have an online store available in the near future.