How a man in Quebec's Eastern Townships is reviving his family's beloved ski hill
Peter White is hoping to bring Mont Glen back after its closure 18 years ago
Peter White is looking to correct a mistake he made in 2004.
"You know, I never thought I would have this opportunity again," he said.
If all goes as planned, White will once again be owner of the Mont Glen ski hill in Quebec's Eastern Townships this fall. It's located between the U.S. border and Lac-Brome about 95 kilometres from Montreal.
White's uncle first opened the ski hill in 1961. He took over the ski hill in 1978 and kept it operational, with rustic lifts and T-bars, until 2004 when he sold it to an investor who promised to keep it open, White said.
"Then of course he didn't," said White.
The once popular ski hill closed and has sat largely used since then, the chairlift poles standing like forgotten monuments and 27 trails, still visible from the foot of the mountain today, slowly receding back into nature.
Over the years since Mont Glen first opened in Bolton-Ouest, Que., Mont Sutton, Mont Écho, Ski Bromont and Owl's Head all opened as well, drawing alpine enthusiasts away from the smaller resort which has never had any permanent snow-making capabilities.
There was, however, a bustling ski school and plenty of loyal skiers who continued to show up at Mont Glen every winter to slide down its slopes.
Over the years, White said he operated the ski hill as a break-even business. It wasn't making him money, but he kept it going out of passion.
White said he still won't be installing snow cannons. In fact, he won't even be installing chairlifts for the first season. But people are welcome to come use the trails, he said, as long as they're willing to make the hike to the top.
Ski resorts have declined since 2004
White is taking on the investment at a time when more ski hills appear to be closing than opening in the province.
When the Glen closed in 2004, there were 82 alpine resorts in the province. Today there are 75 that open every year, with 73 of those being members of the Association des stations de ski du Québec, said a spokesperson for the organization, Sophie Leblanc-Leroux.
But White is well aware of the decline in ski hills.
"I'm certainly not in this to make money, you know. In the ski business, the way to become a millionaire is to start with a billion," said White with a laugh.
Despite the financial risk, he made an offer to repurchase the land, and it was accepted.
Now that sale is in its final stages and he's looking forward to getting the place back up and running again, even if that means people have to hoof it up the hill — an activity that is increasingly popular these days with skiers and snowboarders who like to carve up the backcountry.
"People are very very interested in what they call alpine touring, going up the mountain on skins under your cross-country skis and then skiing down on groomed trails and that's exactly what we can offer here," said White.
White said he plans to add lifts within a couple of years as the old ones are no longer operational. Though there won't be any snowmaking, he said there will be efforts to gather snow and pack it down on the trails.
And he said he won't try to compete with the likes of nearby Owl's Head or Bromont. The plan is to keep that rustic feel, said White, who is head of the Conservative Party of Canada's Brome-Missisquoi riding association and former adviser to Brian Mulroney.
Mayor of Lac-Brome looks forward to reopening
Be it skinning to the top or coasting up on a chairlift, the mayor of Lac-Brome, Richard Burcombe, said he welcomes the new investment as it means more people will be coming to the area and giving the local economy a boost.
He said skiers and snowboarders are known to stop on their way to the hill to get gas and snacks, and stop on the way out at restaurants. Weekends and holidays are busier when the ski hill is open, he said.
"It's great for the economy," he said, recalling the hay days of Mont Glen when his kids were learning to ski there and he would always bump into people he knew.
"A lot of people would buy a season's pass, go up in the morning, do a few runs and just sit and have something to eat and talk to everybody you knew. It was like a get together," he said.
He said the town of Lac-Brome took a hit when Mont Glen closed because "that's where everybody passes through."
And now he is among those hopeful that its reopening will help bring in more people once again.
White said there's little doubt that the hill's unexpected closure hurt the local economy.
"It'll never be allowed to close again," he said. "That's my view."
with files from Douglas Gelevan