Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Life for Mont Glen

Starting today and for the rest of March, the ski hill will be open on weekends as it prepares to become a members-only resort next year

Alex Roslin

Montreal Gazette
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mont Glen, one of the Eastern Townships’ oldest and most storied ski hills, is reopening today and for four weekends in March after a three-year hiatus.

The reopening is a prelude to the hill’s launch next year as Quebec’s first member-only ski hill—a new concept that manager Pat Côté hopes will resuscitate the long-struggling resort.

“There’s lots of excitement here,” he said. “The snow is great, reservations are going good, people are happy.”

Mont Glen, which first opened in 1960 and boasts a 350-metre vertical drop—higher than every hill in the Laurentians except Tremblant—had hard times through the 1990s because it lacks snow-making equipment and is heavily dependent on the snow gods to deliver fluffy white flakes all season long.

Côté said he hopes the strategy of charging an annual membership fee will translate into uncrowded runs and no chairlift lineups, which will help his hill stand out in a competitive Townships ski market that includes four hills within a 20-minute drive of Mont Glen—Bromont, Orford, Sutton and Owl’s Head.

Côté describes the March opening as a stripped-down test run, during which Mont Glen will sell only 300 tickets per day through its website. Only one lift will be operational, and there will be no equipment rental, cafeteria services or bar.

Côté said the hill’s owner, Knowlton real-estate developer Mario Lamothe, initially tossed around the idea of a super-high-end resort in the vein of several private ski hills around Collingwood, Ont., which charge $30,000 or more for membership and up to $5,000 per year for a family pass.

In the end, Côté said that idea was dropped for now as “too much of a gamble” in favour of the more modest idea of a “Club Costco-style card” that “will be affordable for everyone.”

Mont Glen had long had an almost-fanatical fan base drawn to its challenging runs and feathery all-natural powder, which unlike artificial snow doesn’t turn icy after a lot of traffic.

The hill’s lively extracurricular scene was also notorious, including a colourful bar life and slopeside parties. Mont Glen attracted such a loyal partying clientele that a second bar opened off-site to help serve them, the Thirsty Boot, a favourite drinking hole of author Mordecai Richler.

Ski Canada magazine once called Mont Glen “the zany black sheep of the Ski East centres.”

But repeated seasons of poor snowfall and competition from neighbouring resorts caused the business to deteriorate in the 1990s. It finally closed in 2004.

One earlier owner sought to revive the resort’s prospects by developing condos at the 700-acre site, but that idea was shot down by the town council of West Bolton, where residents wanted to preserve the mountainous area’s tranquility and picturesque natural vistas.

Côté said the current owner hasn’t made any decisions on developing 500 acres of the site where residential construction is a possibility.

Local residents are responding with enthusiasm tempered with a measure of skepticism owing to the hill’s past financial travails.

“I don’t think there is more than a 50-50 chance of success,” said Brian Eddington, a columnist with a local newspaper who wrote a book chronicling the hill’s rich history, titled Out of Bounds: The Glen Mountain Ski Story.

Still, Eddington said he is happy to see the hill where he skied for 30 years reopen. “A lot of us miss it.”

West Bolton mayor Donald Bager is also skeptical. “It will take some fairly ingenious solutions to make it profitable.”

He also said some locals were concerned about the idea of an exclusive resort at the hill. “It doesn’t take a rocket science mentality to see what that would do to the community.”

Documentary-maker Albert Nerenberg, who moved near the mountain with his family last summer, called the reopening “great for the whole area,” but said he is also glad the high-end plan was dropped.

“We were really worried it would bring in a bunch of Polo-wearing riffraff.”

[TAGS: Mont Glen, skiing, Eastern Townships, West Bolton]

No comments: