Nfld. & Labrador

White Hills, Marble Mountain to open — but government mum on details for the latter

The province's two ski hills are gearing up for the 2020-2021 season.
Businesses and skiers had been urging the government to open the ski resort for the upcoming season. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

After weeks of wondering by business owners and skiers who pushed for the reopening of Marble Mountain, the provincial government announced Friday the west coast attraction would open. 

However, details are few and far between. 

Questions that the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation — and its minister, Bernard Davis — say can't be answered at this time include whether both ski lifts will operate, which slopes will be open, how the lodge will operate given COVID-19 capacity restrictions, and whether locker rooms will be available. 

The government's announcement that Marble Mountain will open comes just four days before a byelection in the Humber-Gros Morne district.

Tourism Minister Bernard Davis says no other details are available at this time about how Marble Mountain will operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Government of N.L. )

It's a byelection with especially high stakes for the Liberals, since Premier Andrew Furey is without a seat in the House of Assembly. Dwight Ball resigned his seat earlier this month to make way for Furey. 

The other candidates running for the seat are NL Alliance Leader Graydon Pelley, Mike Goosney of the Progressive Conservatives, and Graham Downey-Sutton of the New Democratic Party. 

The province earmarked $700,000 for the Crown corporation that operates Marble Mountain in the provincial budget presented this week — $306,400 for "operational repairs and maintenance funding for the Marble Mountain Development Corporation," plus $400,000 for the corporation to purchase or replace infrastructure or equipment.

That amount is the same as was set aside for Marble Mountain in last year's budget, but the resort more than doubled its operational, repairs and maintenance funding in the 2019-20 fiscal year, bringing the total cost over $1 million.

According to annual reports, government provided $1,056,400 for the same funding to the resort in the 2018-19 year, plus a $150,000 marketing grant.

While 2020 is anything but typical, late September is usually when Marble Mountain begins publicly announcing details of the upcoming season, such as early bird rates for season passes, but its social media channels have been quiet since late spring.

That silence had skiers and nearby businesses in western Newfoundland anxious for updates.

Earlier in the week after the release of the budget, Keith Cormier, an avid skier and past president of the Marble Mountain Ski and Ride Club, said he anticipates only one lift will open on the hill this winter, and little to no snowmaking capacity.

Cormier said it's disappointing not to see some added cash for further development at the base of the mountain, or for a hydroelectric generator to help power the ski lifts, which would both to add value to Marble Mountain in the long term.

"This is the crown jewel, as government has said over the years, of the winter tourism project for Newfoundland. It is a net economic contributor to the province, has been since it was put here in the '60s," he said.

Avid skier Keith Cormier says the lack of local representation on the Marble Mountain Development Corporation's board of directors is 'scandalous.' (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Cormier said he's also disappointed that there hasn't been any changes to the structure of the Marble Mountain Development Corporation's board of directors.

The articles of incorporation for the Crown corporation state that the board should include representatives from the City of Corner Brook, the Town of Steady Brook and the Marble Mountain Ski and Ride Club, but the current board is composed entirely of civil servants in St. John's.

"There's no local input into the operation of this hill.… There are people on this board right now that have never been in [the Marble Mountain lodge] in two winters, haven't been inside the door. How can you make decisions on what's going on if you haven't even been here? It's scandalous," Cormier said.

"Everyone who's a member of that board now reports to the minister of tourism. You think there's a conflict of interest?"

In June 2018, the province issued a request for proposals to potentially sell the hill or its assets, but little has been said about a potential sale since then, except that government has received multiple offers on the resort.

Tourism Minister Bernard Davis said last month that while the pandemic slowed down the process of looking for a buyer, it has since restarted, but he could not give a timeline on when anything will be announced.

Davis also said the hill's management won't change while the RFP process continues.

White Hills ready for skiers

The White Hills Ski Resort in Clarenville is also opening for the 2020-21 season.

Manager Pierre Mirault says the facility got approval from government and public health officials last week.

He said he anticipates people will be looking for ways to get outside this winter and be active. 

"We're pretty confident that, having our facility open this winter, we'll probably have a lot more interest and the general public will be just anxious to do something, especially on the mountain in the wintertime," he said.

"It's a perfect situation." 

White Hills Ski Resort manager Pierre Mirault is optimistic about the upcoming ski season. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Mirault said the ski hill was doing well early this year, benefiting from January's historic snowfall, until the COVID-19 pandemic shut the hill down in March.

While restrictions will pose a new challenge this season, he said White Hills will be open for business. 

"This is a challenge for everyone, as we all know.… Money obviously is an issue, we have to be very cautious and careful of that, [but] we're pretty optimistic. This, I think, will be a very good season for us all around," he said.

Mirault said White Hills will adhere to public health guidelines and will make adjustments as necessary if there's a second wave, but for now, they plan to keep the slopes open all winter.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Stephanie Kinsella and Lukas Wall

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