The Agassiz Ski Hill at the east side of Riding Mountain National Park (seen here this 2003 file photo) was closed after the 1999-2000 season.
Mount Agassiz ski hill, which has been closed for more than a decade, might finally have a second chance at life.
The long-awaiting request for proposal by Riding Mountain National Park and Parks Canada, which has been delayed since the end of 2012, will be released in August according to James Gordon, product development officer at Riding Mountain National Park.
"Draft documents are currently prepared and undergoing an internal review," Gordon told the Sun recently. "We plan to have them ready for public release in August.
"Parks Canada appreciates the importance of this initiative to the community and the whole parkland area."
However, frustration over the ongoing delays is boiling over from the Agassiz Mountain Development Group, which has been lobbying to bring back a ski hill to the area for more than five years.
"They’ve never met a deadline," said Kelly Rose of the development group, "but to be this late is incredible, especially for a government agency."
According to Rose, an RFP was expected to be released in December 2012, a date that came and went.
An email written by RMNP partnering and engagement officer Marjorie Huculak in January 2012 to Rose and forwarded to the Sun stated "the park is confident we will be able to release the RFP documents by the end of February 2013."
The RFP’s release was delayed once again, with plans to release the documents in early spring 2013, which proved to be another missed deadline.
Parks Canada wouldn’t confirm how long the RFP will be open, but according to the same email from Huculak, the RFP was originally expected to be open for one year.
Parks Canada has defended the ongoing delay stating the process is more complicated than it appeared at first glance and the package was in need of further review.
"It’s a very complex file," Gordon said. "It has taken us a little longer to complete than we’d hope due to that complexity and we want to make sure it’s the greatest opportunity for a potential successful proponent.
"We’ve invested a great deal of effort to get this through the process and unfortunately sometimes these things take time."
Ahead of the RFP promised to come out next month, a concerned Rose is already expecting issues.
"If they’ve taken a year, it could be so incredibly complicated that no one will come forward," he said. "We should have been involved in it, because we know if issues that will come out, and when they bring it out, we’ll definitely scrutinize it and we’ll probably find things that they haven’t even touched on, thus it will be delayed even longer to take proposals."
But he said he’ll forge ahead over any more speedbumps the project may encounter, citing the area’s dire need for more economic activity.
"It would bring so much pride back to those communities that have suffered so badly."
"The benefits are vast. Everyone just had to be reminded of how popular a ski hill it was. It is the best ski hill in the Prairie. I’m fighting for the best ski hill in the Prairies."
Nancy Hays, owner of Agassiz Park Lodge in nearby McCreary said her business has been treading water since the hill shut down in 2000.
"We have never been able to experience the business this place used to get from that ski hill and that’s why this lodge was apparently built in the first place," she said.
Weary travellers looking to seek shelter from bad roads may pop in for the night she said, but otherwise the business has been on a slippery slope since the hill closed.
Hays echoed concerns about Parks Canada’s continued delay to get this project off the ground.
"We’re a business owner who is suffering from a lack of Parks Canada moving their butt to get something going here.
"Everything they do seems to take forever. They set their own deadlines, yet they never seem to meet them."
A two-year study by American-based SE Group consultants on the feasibility of Agassiz and the ski industry in Manitoba was released last year and proposed three options to reopen the shuttered hill.
The "Community Ski Option," in which the ski hill would be downsized from its previous state and only open runs on the east side of the mountain, resulted in an estimated loss of approximately $100,000 per year, the report stated.
The "Restoration Option," in which the ski hill would open both runs and rebuild and restore existing facilities at Agassiz, resulted in 10-year loss of approximately $9 million.
The option would rely on more than 36,000 visits per year to break even, which is more than double the realistic expectations, stated the report from SE Group.
The "Competitive Option," in which the ski hill builds two new lifts, purchases new equipment and builds a new lodge, resulted in an initial profit of $300,000 in the first year, but due to capital maintenance costs and debt service charges, the study states the ski hill would lose close to $9 million over 10 years.
On top of Rose’s laundry list of issues with Parks Canada, he said the feasibility study was "extremely negative," wasn’t thorough enough and provided inaccurate information.
For example, he argues the study’s estimation of how many skiers visited the hill when it was last open was "so far off, it was laughable."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 22, 2013