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The Hills Are Alive (Posted On: Thursday, February 04, 2016)

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As a young girl I was always told, "If you can ski in Ontario you can ski anywhere." The often icy conditions and steep terrain challenged me to the core, making up for the short runs that took mere seconds to navigate. Growing up in Midland, Ontario, on a hill where there were no chairlifts (only Pomalifts) and one snowmobile took care of the grooming, Southern Georgian Bay's ski hills always felt like mountains.

Today, our local hills have changed what they can. Fully automated snowmaking, advanced grooming and high-speed lifts enhance what they can’t change - the length and pitch of their slopes. At all of our area ski hills, members, ticket holders, presidents and employees are quick to point out the progress that has been made over the last 75 years in the industry. However, they are equally quick to highlight that at the heart of it all everything remains the same. Skiing is ultimately about family, fun and being active in the outdoors.

Blue: Where it all Began

The biggest player on the Southern Ontario ski scene is unquestionably Blue Mountain. Drawing over two million visitors a year, Blue Mountain has placed Southern Georgian Bay on the international tourist map along with national treasures like Niagara Falls and the nation's capital. Blue Mountain Resort will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year and Paul Pinchbeck, director of marketing, considers it a celebration of the three phases of Blue.*

The first phase was rooted in one man's vision: Czechoslovakian-born Jozo Weider. In the early 1940s, when the sport of downhill skiing in Ontario had few participants, Weider saw the future of not just a sport but of a lifestyle. Weider had an interesting business strategy that not everyone knows about, says Pinchbeck. In his innovative way, Weider created other businesses, like Blue Mountain Pottery, in conjunction with the ski hill, creating an economy beyond skiing but within its territory. The creation of jobs and disposable income meant more visitors to the local ski hill. By creating a highly sought-after product, in the form of pottery, more visitors were coming to the area, which ultimately meant more people skiing at Blue Mountain. It is not an unfamiliar strategy today, and we continue to see it at Blue Mountain through a diversified economy that can sustain itself in all seasons. Weider's other visions were also groundbreaking for the area and time. In the early 1960s Weider had his own vision of a resort "village," and by the 1980s the family secured planning opportunities to make Blue Mountain an iconic destination.

The second phase of Blue Mountain took place in the late 1990s, when the Weider family welcomed Intrawest (developer and operator of destination resorts) onto the scene by selling 50 per cent of the company. With the help of Intrawest, Jozo's vision of a village was actualized. Blue Mountain quickly grew from a resort with a couple hundred scattered hotel rooms and condos to well over 1,000, and from two restaurants to dozens. Blue Mountain expanded its ski operations to include 42 runs, 350 acres of skiable terrain and 12 lifts, making it the largest ski resort in Ontario.

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