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The Making of a Ski Resort
Blue Mountain is an alpine ski resort situated on a section of the Niagara Escarpment about 1 km away from Georgian Bay, just northwest of Collingwood, Ontario. It is a major destination for skiers from the Toronto area, and sells on average more than 750,000 lift tickets per year, making it the third-busiest ski resort in Canada after Whistler-Blackcomb and Mont Tremblant. It is one of the largest resorts in Ontario and has been extensively built out, featuring 34 runs, 13 chairlifts and 5 freestyle terrains. Majority owned by Intrawest since 1999, the resort has recently undergone major renovations, including new high-speed lifts and a new "village" similar to those built at Tremblant and Whistler at its base.
Jozo Weider was born in Zhilina in 1908, in the Slovak part of what was thenCzechoslovakia. In his 20's he built a ski chalet in the Carpathian mountains and lived as an innkeeper, mountain guide and photographer through the 1930s. He also travelled abroad to England to promote the chalet, and was on such a trip in 1939 when World War II opened. He telegrammed his wife, still in Czechoslovakia, who joined him with their son, and the entire family emigrated to Canada later that year, settling in Peace River, Alberta. Later that year he travelled east, starting work at the Chateau Frontenac as a ski instructor. The next year he moved the entire family to Quebec, working at the Alpine Inn in Ste. Marguerite. While working there he met Peter Campbell who was involved in developing ski areas in Collingwood, and the two started a partnership to develop Blue Mountain. Development started in 1941, with the Weider family moving into a farm at the base of the escarpment. The family farmed the fields about the base during the summers. Weider built a small chalet at what is now the north end of the hill, the Blue Mountain Lodge, and started clearing trails by hand. A single lift consisted of two sleds pulled up the hill by a cable running on the ground, serving three runs, “Schuss”, ”Granny” and “Kandahar”. At the time Collingwood was primarily a shipbuilding and apple growing region, and had limited tourist access via road, so the first skiers arrived via train at the nearby Craigleith station.
In 1948 Weider signed an agreement with the Toronto Ski Club and the Blue Mountain Ski club, giving them a 999 year lease for chalet areas just south of the Lodge. Later that year he purchased another 150 acre farm to the south, turning the hill over the new farm into the Apple Bowl area. The next year the barn on the new land was turned into The Ski Barn, and became the hill's primary day lodge, drawing the center of the hill to the south. Weider later sold the Lodge, using the money to fund the purchase of a poma lift which replaced the original sleds between “Schuss” and “Granny” starting in 1955. The first chair lift opened in 1959, the Old South Chair, at the extreme south end of the hill. The skiable area now covered the entire two and half mile frontage the hill still has to this day, although the most southern 50 acres are currently not open. During development Weider noticed that the soil was mostly clay, and started a hobby making ceramics, which later developed into Blue Mountain Pottery.Improving economics combined with dramatically improved ski equipment turned skiing into a major sport for the first time in the 1960s. To serve the growing market, a new twenty room Inn was opened near the Ski Barn. In 1966 Weider sold Blue Mountain Pottery, and used the money to fund a major expansion, adding three double chairs and replacing the Barn with the new Central Base Lodge. Weider died in 1971, before the mountain was fully developed. After his death control passed to his son and son-in-law.
The 1970s were a period of major expansion of the hill. In 1973 a major snowmaking system was installed, and a ski rental/repair facility was added to the Base Lodge, while a new South Base Lodge was built to spread out the facilities. By the end of the decade there were 17 lifts serving the hill; 3 triple chairs, 5 double chairs, 6 pomas, one T-bar and a rope tow. In 1977 they added the Blue Mountain Slide Ride in order to provide summer income, consisting of a 2000 foot long mini-bobsled track with sleds on teflon runners. In 1980 this was expanded with the Slipper Dipper Water Slide, intertwined with the Slide Ride, and then again in 1985 with a tube ride.
In 1980, Blue Mountain purchased Georgian Peaks Club, a smaller but higher ski club just northwest of Blue Mountain. Consisting mostly of advanced terrain, the Peaks is the only ski area in Ontario with enough vertical drop to host a full-sized international Slalom course. Shuttle buses were available to move between the two base areas, and a single lift ticket was good at both hills. This experiment was apparently unsuccessful, and the Peaks went fully private again on June 29, 1987.
In 1981 attention moved to the north end of the hill again with the completion of the Blue Mountain Inn, near the original Lodge. The Chateau Ridge condominium development started near the central lodge. The base lodge itself underwent a major facelift in 1988.
The Intrawest Corporation has a 50% interest in the ownership of Blue Mountain. Since acquiring this interest in Blue Mountain, Intrawest has completed many development projects in the mountain area. The Blue Mountain Village was constructed at the base of the Silver Bullet chairlift. Four high speed six-passenger chairlifts have been installed. A conference centre has been built. As well, large numbers of condominium and hotel units have been constructed in the Blue Mountain Village. The ski runs north of Happy Valley are owned by the Toronto Ski Club rather than Blue Mountain Resorts, but are managed by Blue Mountain for the TSC. Sales of real estate form the bulk of Intrawest's income. Skier visits have increased, and are projected to continue to increase with planned expansions to the skiing operations.
Blue Mountain also offers downhill mountain biking in the summer months, with bikes and riders taken up hill in gondolas and racks mounted on the Silver Bullet Express.
In the summer months Blue also maintains a climbing wall, hiking trails, a small private beach, a small water park and Blue was also beginning construction on a miniature golf course at the base of the hill.