Ski hills in N.S. now open after slow start to season

Skiiers celebrate the opening day at Ski Ben Eoin in Cape Breton.  (Submitted by Darcy MacDonald - image credit)
Skiiers celebrate the opening day at Ski Ben Eoin in Cape Breton. (Submitted by Darcy MacDonald - image credit)

After a slow start to the season due to mild and wet weather, all four ski hills in Nova Scotia are open for business this weekend.

In Cape Breton, Cape Smokey has been operating its surface lift since Dec. 31, and Ski Ben Eoin opened its main chairlift today.

In Hants County, Ski Martock opened one run at the beginning of January and is now operating four.

In Cumberland County, Ski Wentworth kicked off its 90th year on Jan. 12. It has four runs open.

"We are probably about six days behind last year," said Darcy MacDonald, director of business operations at Ski Ben Eoin in Cape Breton. "Our target is usually the end of December, but the last couple seasons it's been a mid-January start."

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Rain and warm temperatures delayed openings across the province, but much of Nova Scotia received snowfall on Friday.

Ski operators tried to make snow, but snow-making machines aren't effective in all conditions.

MacDonald said this marks the third year in a row with fairly warm weather in December and more rain than usual.

While natural snow is a great bonus, MacDonald said the hill relies on snow cannons to create enough snow to cover the hills.

Last year, Ben Eoin purchased a new snow-making machine that allows it to make more snow in a shorter period of time, and at a warmer temperature.

"We're always looking at new ways to try to improve that process," he said.

Submitted by Darcy MacDonald
Submitted by Darcy MacDonald

While ski hills are open, some are still facing challenges and have limited the number of skiers or runs until more snow can be made.

Skiing is not yet open from the top of the mountain at Cape Smokey, near Antigonish.

"We make a little bit of progress to open another run, and it seems like it rains the next moment and we lose a lot of what we gained before," said Martin Kejval, CEO of Cape Smokey Holdings.

Smokey has about 15 centimetres of snow from the top to bottom of its surface lift.

The gondola is in operation, but it's not open to skiers or snowboarders yet. Instead, visitors can ride the gondola to the top and use snowshoes to explore hiking trails.

Kejval said he is optimistic ski season will be in full swing by February.

Submitted by Martin Kejval
Submitted by Martin Kejval

At Ben Eoin, the hill is only open to visitors with season passes.

"With limited terrain, we didn't want to put too many people on the mountain," MacDonald said.

"This gives our members a chance to get out and get some first tracks. They've been waiting a while this year, so we wanted to give something back to them."