Western N.L. still enjoying snow without a ski hill

Marble Mountain has been forced to close down indefinitely for the second winter in a row, and now some folks are out making their own winter fun.

James Grudic
Kicker

Dru Kennedy stands in deep powdery snow on top of the Lewis Hills near Corner Brook. Kennedy and his friends took their split-boards up the mountain and carved their way back down.
Dru Kennedy stands in deep powdery snow on top of the Lewis Hills near Corner Brook. Kennedy and his friends took their split-boards up the mountain and carved their way back down. Photo contributed.

People were disappointed again this season when Marble Mountain announced that the ski hill wouldn’t be able to open for business, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting out and enjoying the snow any way they can.

After an unusually warm December and January, the snow finally came down in early February; at the same time, the province experienced its largest single surge of COVID-19 cases yet.

With the province in its highest public health alert level, the Marble Mountain Ski Resort had no choice but to shut down operations, just as it finally got the weather conditions it needed to open the hill.

Now that the ski hill is closed indefinitely for the second winter in a row, people are getting creative in finding ways of getting out and having fun in the powdery snow.

Dru Kennedy is a lifelong snowboarder and a member of the Canadian Ski Patrol. He and his friends have been going out on their snowboards since the lockdowns began last winter.

“I haven’t been on a groomed trail since March 13 of last year, but I have done so much snowboarding since then,” he said. “It’s still snowboarding.”

Kennedy and his friends recently spent a day in the Lewis Hills, where they hiked up the mountainside and rode their snowboards back down.

“You spend the whole day hiking up the hill and about 60 seconds riding down,” said Kennedy. “The quality of my snowboarding has gone up, while the quantity has gone down.”

In a region with so many hills, Kennedy says that people who wish they could be at Marble Mountain can still get to ride on the snow.

“You can be bummed out, and that’s normal, but put your snowboard on your backpack, walk up a hill and find somewhere new to go snowboarding.”

Kennedy also cautions people against going out in the snow alone – or doing anything that they’re unsure about. He says that he always has a buddy, and he lets someone know where they’re going. He’s also received avalanche skills training.

“Be prepared if you’re going in the back country,” he said. “Reach out to people who are doing it. That’s the most important thing.”

Family time

Out in the gentler hills of Pasadena, about 30 kilometres east of Corner Brook, Nicholas O’Brien has found his winter solace in the nearby walking trails with his family.

He and his wife Sarah are both lifelong snowboarders. When they found out that Marble Mountain couldn’t open up, they were disappointed.

“My wife was definitely more upset than me,” said O’Brien, adding that Sarah wasn’t able to snowboard at all last year around the time their first son was born.

Nicholas and Sarah O’Brien have been pulling their baby boy around the Pasadena forest in his ski wagon. They say the family time out in the snow has been a substitute for the ski hill. Submitted by Nicholas O’Brien

Now, in the absence of the ski hill, the O’Briens have been spending time together outdoors as a family, along with their one-year-old son Rowan.

“Instead, we got a wagon with skis on it, so we’re just in the woods all the time with our little one,” said Nicholas. “Doing lots of walks, enjoying the scenery. We built a snowman last week.”

While he understands the need for lockdown measures, Nicholas explained how he thinks that skiing and snowboarding can be done safely during the pandemic.

“This is an activity where you can very easily socially distance,” said O’Brien. “I don’t see why we couldn’t safely snowboard.”

“It kind of seems like the perfect socially distanced activity,” he added. “It’s a big hill, there’s a lot of space.”

Many ski hills across Canada are open for business despite the ongoing pandemic. O’Brien said he thinks that things could be done differently, even in these times, so that the ski hill could still open.

“Marble has an opportunity to get creative,” he said. “They could do their ticketing outside, keep the lodge closed and still let people enjoy the hill.”

The O’Briens are hopeful that the ski hill might get to open this season, but they aren’t holding their breath.

“This is only one year. Marble isn’t going anywhere. There are many years left for that,” said Nicholas.

For anyone who might be struggling without their favourite winter activity open for business, O’Brien has a simple message.

“Just get out there and enjoy it (the outdoors). It will do a lot for your mental health and keep away the cabin fever.”

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