Eastlink Park is a bustling place as staff, and volunteers get things ready for the upcoming season. This year, one significant change is that there will be two windows designated for intake to help keep the lines flowing. A switch-a-roo with their rental equipment and a downstairs office enabled the change. "We have a big sea can on the end of the building for our rental equipment now. Previously, we had all that equipment upstairs. Getting that equipment out of the way allowed us to move an office from downstairs to upstairs. That original downstairs office will now be the ticket windows," explained volunteer Guye Lappin.
"This way, we will have two ticket windows, possibly three if necessary, to try and speed things up. We had a real bottleneck last year with lines ups outside, and we are trying to make that a lot better. We've got some computers coming too." Lisa Coffee, Terrain Park Lead, said the change would be impactful. "We want to increase our customer experience. Nobody wants to wait for an hour in a lineup, so we hope this will make a big difference because we value the people who come here. They are the reason we are here!"
Last year, with patrons unable to hang out inside the chalet due to restrictions, they used one window as an intake spot, allowing people to remain outside. With similar restrictions, staff will have the space and technology to handle the lineups faster this year. Once enthusiasts are through the sign-in process, there will be two new areas that provide shelter. "We purchased four shelters this year to keep people warm outside because we are suspecting that we are going to be outside again like last year. We will put fire pits in front of them and have a table inside to sit down at. These shelters will help break the wind and give people a bit more comfort when they are sitting outside," explained Lappin.
He said there would also be tables placed outside of the shelter areas too. "We're going to keep the shelters even after people can go inside again because a lot of people like staying outside. They are dressed for it, and when you go inside, you have to strip down because you get hot. If you stay outside, you can enjoy your sandwich outside at lunchtime," he said. There are two shelters on site already, and two more are coming soon. Once here, each spot will feature two shelters in a U-shape as a wind block.
Another addition to the top of the hill is a 30x45 foot cold shelter for their Sno-Cat and miscellaneous equipment. "Anytime you can keep equipment out of the sunshine and the weather, it's just much happier at the beginning of the day when we go to start it. When we try to start that thing, lots of times, it's 30 below outside. Getting it ready for a day that has 20 below as a high, it needs a little shelter to keep it warmer and keep the wind off of it," said Lappin.
As for snow-making, this year, the crew at Eastlink Park will get a boost from a surface water line that runs from the top of the hill near the Bunny Hill, across the ski runs and straight down the T-bar. "We used to have to put out 1500 feet, or 2000 feet, of hose to get water over here. Now we have this line that enables us to tie into it with just a couple of pieces of hose."
Coffee said it'll make the snow-making process much more efficient. "It's going to save us a lot of time. It takes hours to lay out all those hoses, so this will give us a lot more time to continue with snow-making and get things open faster." Lappin said it used to take four or five hours to layout the hoses and even longer to pick them up afterwards. "You have to pick them up every time that you shut down because otherwise, they freeze up. With this line, we will just blow it out with air and leave it in place, and it will stay there year-round just like they do at the mountain ski hills."
Coffee and Lappin said that Eastlink Park's inspiration comes through conversations with people who work at bigger ski hills in the province. "I do a lot of talking to the head millwright at Grande Prairie, who also services the hills in North Peace Country. I lean on him for information all the time," said Lappin. "Now, they come here because they are putting in a new lift, and they want to put theirs on pilings just like we did. So, we share information back and forth."
The last new feature added to the hill this year is a vantage point to provide safety. "We have new cameras that are being installed. We can monitor the lift and prevent further incidents and injuries by seeing what ends up happening and making necessary changes, so they don't happen again," explained Coffee. "The cameras are all Wi-Fi, so we installed high-speed internet to the bottom of the hill to be able to utilize them." The cameras also provide security for the hill throughout the day and night.
On Tuesday, November 9, Lappin and Coffee were on hand at the bottom of the T-bar hill to place the first seat. "We are just starting to install the T-bars on the haul cable to take people up the hill. We have 38 of them. We will clamp them all to the cable and then make sure they are all working properly," said Lappin.
Now, both are just waiting on the white stuff and the temperatures to fall. "We are going to be starting our snow-making very soon and are hoping to get open pretty soon now that it's getting colder," said Coffee. With a smirk, Guye gestured that he was hoping for knee-high snow. Since it seemed to work last year, the Whitecourt Press is sending in a request to Santa in hopes that Guye gets his wish.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press