Sudbury

Ski hills in northeastern Ontario seek city tax dollars to stay afloat

With ski season not too far off, several hills in the northeast are trying to steady their finances. And they're turning to their city councils to help them stay afloat.

Greater Sudbury is the only city in the northeast to run its own ski hills

Skiiers and snowboarders ride the chair lift to the top at Laurentian Ski Hill in North Bay. (Laurentian Ski Hill )

Kamiskotia Snow Resort is hoping Timmins city council will give them $160,000 to help wipe out a debt the ski hill owes.

Confusingly, it owes that debt to the City of Timmins.

"It's why we're sitting here right now," general manager Eric Philipow told council last week.

"It's the only way we can get ahead."

The grant request is to cover several years of unpaid property taxes that the non-profit ski hill owes to the city.

Philipow says Kamiskotia has settled its other debts, reduced operating costs and has expanded into hosting motocross events and weddings.

It is also coming off a winter with a lot of snow that attracted a lot of skiers. 

"We were profitable, but we're limited on where that money can go," Philipow told Timmins city council last week, referring to $1.5 million in repairs to the ski facilities needed the next 10 years.

Kamiskotia Snow Resort is seeking $160,000 from the City of Timmins to cover the property tax it hasn't been paying to the city. (Kamiskotia Snow Resort)

Timmins city councillors were wary, having bailed out Kamiskotia with taxpayers dollars in years past.

"I, as a city don't want to own a ski hill, but I value having a ski hill in Timmins," said city councillor Andrew Marks.

No decision was made, but a majority of councillors said they wanted to support the ski hill, as long as they were provided with regular financial reports.

"There are certain taxpayers that will be knocking at my door tomorrow saying 'Why them and not us?'" said Timmins councillor Noella Rinaldo. 

How much taxpayers should support ski hills is an open question in many corners of the northeast, especially with private for-profit ski hills such as Searchmont near Sault Ste. Marie and Antoine Mountain in Mattawa.

Dave Brunet, the operations manager at the non-profit Mount Dufour in Elliot Lake, says he sees the ski hill as a public service.

"I don't think we're any different than a city-run arena or tennis court or a swimming pool, that costs quite a bit more to operate," says Brunet, who has volunteered at Dufour for 40 years.

"We're operating it for the benefit of Elliot Lake."

The ski hill is run by an independent board, but Brunet says they will go to city council for help with big ticket items, like a recent emergency purchase of a $450,000 groomer.

He says the climbing costs of running a hill from rising employee costs, hydro bills and regular safety audits of the lifts, which can run as high as $100,000, will likely prompt private for-profit operators to need public help in the years ahead.

"The public sort of whines a little bit about what the costs are to go per day, but they don't see the hidden costs there behind the scenes that the developer or the operator has to put out to keep these places alive," says Brunet. 

Mount Dufour in Elliot Lake isn't run directly by the city, but does seek funding from council from time to time. (Mount Dufour )

Greater Sudbury is the only municipality that directly runs its ski hills, Adanac and Lively.

Four years ago it closed Capreol ski hill after the three hills collectively cost taxpayers $300,000 to keep open.

This year, the two Sudbury ski hills are budgeted to lose $188,000.

Laurentian Ski Hill in North Bay operates on land owned by the conservation authority, but is run by an independent non-profit group. 

It was in danger of closing five years ago, but board of directors member Kristin Franks says regular funding from the city of North Bay has helped keep them in the black. 

She says every year they have to fundraise to cover about a third of the operating costs.

"There's no threat that Laurentian ski hill is not viable, but we really do rely on the community to keep us going," says Franks.

And of course the other thing ski hills rely on is snow and just one green winter, could put them dangerously in the red. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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