Canyon Ski Hill and Lake Louise are popular local ski destinations, but few know about the natural runs of the Medicine Lodge Ski Area, a not-for-profit venture.
Located 11 km west of Bentley, the Medicine Lodge Ski Area is a hill comparable to Canyon in height, but only operates with natural snow. Medicine Lodge is a small, comfortable place where the locals have worked to keep it family-oriented, accessible and welcoming.
“I raised my kids here. Now, they’re all grown and raising kids. One of my sons is a ski patrol and he’s raising his children out here as well. It’s just so much about family here – we all know that we can bring ours here and they will be absolutely safe,” said Gina Williams, one of the volunteers of the Medicine Lodge Ski Area non-profit group.
According to long-time volunteer Bud Offett, local farmers originally donated the land as a natural, walk-up ski area in the 1950s. A group of skiers from Rimbey, Ponoka, Lacombe and Bentley founded the Medicine Lodge Ski Club. Offett said that this group installed a tow-rope and made a few more runs.
From there, the Ski Club maintained the hill until it was given to the Village of Bentley to be held for skiers.
“All of the money from concession and admission goes right back into the operations of the place. We don’t make tons of money here. We do major developments by working bingos, casinos, etc. That’s how most of the major stuff has been done in the past,” said Offett.
“The big thing is that we’re run completely by volunteers so we can’t be open all the time. This year, it’s been harder with the weather being so up and down.”
The hill has a variety of runs but is best suited to those looking for a simple ride or learning how to get their bearings.
There are several black diamond runs near the top of the hill where the terrain is steep. There are intermediate and beginner runs near the bottom of the hill, most of which are visible from the lodge, which means parents can supervise.
The volunteers who operate the hill have all grown close, but say that they are always accepting people into their ‘ski family’. Many, like Williams and Offett, grew up in the area and have used the hill to teach their families to enjoy winter sports and to develop their skills in the snow.
“Right at the top of the T-bar, there is a handle tow that takes you straight across the top so you can access runs on the other side. We’re in the process of putting in a new run that will come right from the top and curl around toward the west side of the hill. It’ll be a beginner/intermediate run right from the top,” said Williams.
“We’ve got a second handle tow that doesn’t run when there are small groups. We have a new tow as well that got put in this summer. It’s been a godsend, actually. It takes a lot of the stress off of the main T-bar, and it’s mostly for beginners. Going up the T-bar, you can get off both sides halfway and they are beginner runs. Most of the runs from the top are black and they are pretty steep. One is double black diamond due to the steepness of the slope.”
In the summer, the hill has been used for car shows and weddings and other events. Through the winter, it is only open usually on weekends but hours of operation depend on snowfall and volunteer availability.