Tuesday, September 23, 2003
The owners of Fortress Mountain ski area have ambitious expansion plans for the money-losing resort in Kananaskis Country that could open up as much as 100 hectares of extreme skiing.
Resorts of the Canadian Rockies Inc. and newly appointed Fortress manager Zrinko Amerl are in talks with the Alberta government to expand Fortress's skiable terrain by as much as 40 per cent -- almost all of it extreme terrain -- over the next two years.
The plans mark a remarkable turnaround for the resort, which came within a hair of closing permanently this past summer after suffering from declining patronage in recent years.
'We are reviewing what we think is going to be a huge opportunity for Fortress skiers and riders -- to look at a terrain expansion that could not be matched by any other resort in Alberta,' said Matt Mosteller, RCR's director of business development Monday.
'We are going to rebuild and rebrand,' Mosteller said, adding that RCR and Amerl hope to reposition Fortress, already known for aggressive terrain, as a destination for extreme or adventure skiing and boarding.
Mosteller could not estimate the cost of the expansion, but noted RCR is spending 'hundreds of thousands of dollars right now' to return the resort's antiquated lifts to reliability.
Part of the expansion would require skiers and boarders to cross a slope known as the Hourglass, the site, just out of bounds, of a ly avalanche that killed two people in April 2001.
Mosteller emphasized that RCR would sharply enhance avalanche control measures, while Amerl said skiers and boarders would be required to carry avalanche equipment, including tranceivers or beacons.
Such a regime is already in place at Sunshine Village's Delirium Dive, an extreme skiing area that has come under ing demand in recent years.
Like many areas, Sunshine has recently expanded its extreme terrain to serve thrill-seeking skiers and boarders.
'This adventure skiing is in demand. People want lift-serviced cat skiing, and in Alberta's geography the closest opportunity to Calgary would be Fortress,' said Mosteller.
Environmental groups said they are concerned expansion at Fortress could upset the hard-fought balance between protection and development in Kananaskis Country, which marked its 25th anniversary Monday.
'How do we know what the effect of that will be on the valley as a whole,' asked Nadine Raynolds, a campaigner with WildCanada.net.
'Maybe an environmental assessment needs to be done.'
Amerl, 40, a ski industry veteran, said Monday the expansion would likely take place over two years and involve opening up previously hard-to-reach and out-of-bounds areas of Fortress' lease to skiers and boarders.
'Fortress has the terrain for adventure skiing. You can have the best powder skiing, the feel of backcountry skiing, it is safe, accessible by lifts, easily (avalanche) controlled,' said Amerl.
Along with opening up new terrain, the expansion plans would also substantially increase Fortress's modest 1,100-foot existing skiable height, a key industry measure known as vertical drop.
The first stage of new terrain would take place south of existing slopes in a area including and beyond what are called the South Chutes. The second stage would involve terrain north of Fortress's Far Side chairlift.
The southern expansion would require the use of snow cats and possibly tractors to ferry skiers from the base of runs back to the lifts, echoing aborted plans for a cat skiing operation made in the mid-'90s.
This was taken from the Calgary Herald yesturday. The new terrian will open just right of the south chutes. They will also work on taken the stumps and trees out of the Partollers Chutes ehehehe. The terrian is'nt really 'extreme' but it is a good way to attract more people to the resort. If they wanted to go to extreme, stick a lift down to Fortress Lake-some of the best face shots i've ever gotten been down there.