It’s true. There really is an urban ski hill on the shoulder of Whitemud Drive in the heart of Edmonton’s river valley. We’re hardcore snow lovers and we ski in the city.
It’s been this way since 1948, when ski enthusiasts searched the valley’s ravine walls looking for skiable terrain. They’d hoist their skis over a shoulder, tromp through farmers’ fields, and drop down the eroded hillsides for a few sweet turns. These ski pioneers found an open space and wide valley floor in their escapades, got an old rope tow, powered it up with a truck motor and Snow Valley was born.
My family is not unlike these ski pioneers. We’re pretty die-hard, too. We started our children on skis at age two at Snow Valley and for years they’ve been coming twice a week to train with the Nancy Greene program, which introduces kids ages 4-11 to the world of ski racing.
Today we’re here just for fun. We ready ourselves for a ride up the high speed pulse quad along with other eager riders. Once everyone is seated, the chairlift kicks it up to what seems like Mach speed and we fly up the ravine. This might alarm first-time riders, but as soon as we reach the top, the chair slows, gently letting us off on the downhill side. It’s the only lift of its kind, designed to get riders up as fast as possible. Snow Valley receives a surprising 190,000 visitors yearly, making it the fourth or fifth busiest resort in Alberta. It takes us just a minute and a half to reach the top.
Now we can see deep into and across the poplar covered ravine. I let my kids take the lead, trying to imitate their aggressive forward stance – perfected over years of race training on these very slopes. In fact, Snow Valley is also where I learned to ski as a kid in the 1980s. Being here with them brings back memories. We carve down, free as birds, and then do it all again.
Groomers and Snow Machines
Preparing the hills takes some heavy machinery. Snow Valley fires up their snow guns in October to create a minimum base of 60 cm (2 ft). Then, every morning at 3 a.m., the red caboose, as it’s affectionately called, grooms the slopes, rolling out any icy spots so skiers have a perfected corduroy-like surface.
Love terrain parks? Snow Valley has two; beginner and advanced. Forgot your mitts? Head to Snow Riders, Snow Valley’s on-hill store for alpine-quality garments, goggles, and helmets. New to skiing? For a great deal, try the Discover program, which includes two one-hour lessons, lunch, and free-ski time. And when your stomach growls from all the exercise and fresh air, head to the 1,579 sq m (17,000 sq ft) lodge for hot cocoa and a hearty meal. Then curl up by the huge fireplace – constructed with stones that bear the names of all the die-hard skiers who contributed to the building of the lodge – and dream of crystalline snowflakes and all the tales you’ll tell your friends who won’t believe you were skiing in the middle of a city.