ASESSIPPI SKI AREA — Let’s begin with what this place is not.
It is not the Dolomites of Italy. It is not the Alps of Switzerland. It is not even the Tatras of Poland.
Closer to home, it is also not the Rockies of Alberta, the Laurentians of Quebec or even the Sangre De Cristos of New Mexico.
But it’s when you get really close to home — right here in Manitoba — what this place is not — and what it is — gets really interesting. Because in addition to all the other downhill skiing resorts this place is not, it is also very definitely not Stony Mountain or Springhill.
All of which is to say that what they have here is a whole lot better, and in every sense of that term, than anything else we have in this province.
Are they going to be staging any World Cups here soon. No, of course not. This is Manitoba after all.
But if the only Manitoba downhill skiing that you know is shredding your mitts on a tow rope on a tiny hill that takes six carves and under 30 seconds to complete from peak to base, then you are going to be very pleasantly surprised by what they have to offer here at Asessippi.
The skiing here, both in the number of runs available and the challenge of those runs, is at least as good as anything within a six-hour drive of Winnipeg in any direction.
And that’s a bargain when you consider that while Google Maps will tell you it’s a four-and-a-half hour drive here from Winnipeg, I did it easily and at an unhurried pace in just over three-and-a-half hours this month.
Now, it is a fact that the downhill skiing fraternity is plagued by a tiny, but very vocal, minority of ski snobs for whom nothing but Europe or the Rockies will suffice. Those people are boring and will not be happy here.
But I am not such a person. I have been blessed in my days to have skied some of the worlds finest peaks. Indeed, I have skied every single one of the places I listed above in describing what this place is not.
I can report from personal experience that the chairlift in Veysonnaz, Switzerland is the most spectacular natural scenery you’ll ever see; Zakopane in Poland is some of the cheapest skiing you’ll ever do; Italy’s Cortina is freakishly tough, New Mexico’s Taos is way harder than you think, Lake Louise has my favourite slopes in Canada and Tremblant has the best apres-ski.
All of which is not to boast. It is simply to say that I’ve been around too, and I have no patience for ski snobs who seem to revel in telling the rest of us that what we’re enjoying isn’t really worth enjoying.
And I enjoyed Asessipi.
The price was right, the staff was abundant and very well trained, the equipment was still good after a decade in service, the lineups were short and there were challenges to be had on the slopes.
Staff will tell you they have the full gamut of runs here from beginner to expert, although my experience found the top end something more akin to a moderate intermediate run. But it was still enough of a challenge to keep things fun and allow me to work on some skills that needed some polishing.
My ski partner for the weekend was something closer to an advanced beginner and she flourished here. She raved about the private lesson she took the first day (from a native Austrian, no less) and she seemed to find just the right mix of challenge and comfort that beginners need so that they can enjoy while they learn.
And off the slopes, there’s lots of fun to be had too. They’ve assembled a sort of mini-alpine village at the base of the mountain that includes a great pub, with panorama views of the hill, a restaurant and shops. A big private cottage development rims the outer edge of the resort.
Are there downsides? Look, would it be better if there was a couple thousand feet more of elevation? Of course. Can it get really cold? Oh, yeah.
Those are just the realities of downhill skiing in this province and nobody is ever going to change those things. But they make the most of what they do have here — and that’s surprisingly quite considerable.
It’s not a lot of things, but it is a lot of fun.
If you go
How to get there
The Asessippi Ski Resort is located 370 kms northwest of Winnipeg. It’s sandwiched between the western edge of Riding Mountain National Park and the Saskatchewan border and is a 10 minute drive from Russell. Take the Trans Canada and then the Yellowhead. Drive time should be 3-1/2-4 hours.
Where do I stay?
There is presently no hotel at the hill, although one of the local shareholders tells me there are plans on the drawing board to build one eventually. For the time being, skiers make do with almost 30 area hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses. The Russell Inn is the biggest single shareholder in the resort and is also the biggest of the accommodation options.
I want a deal
Skiing is not cheap anywhere, but Asessippi is more affordable than most. A full-day adult lift ticket costs $44 and a set of skis, boots and poles will cost another $28.90 for the day. But they run all kinds of specials all the time that can get the price down dramatically. Right now, there is a weekday special running that includes two adult lift tickets, $45 in food vouchers at local restaurants and a room at the Russell Inn for $190 plus tax. Upgrade to a suite (I had one that would be great for a family of 4 or more) and the price goes to $235. You can get the same package on weekends for $220 and $265 respectively. (Offer valid Sundays to Thursdays in January, February and March. Excluded dates are Dec. 26-Jan. 5, Feb. 19-Feb. 26 and Mar. 27-Apr. 4). See the Russell Inn website at www.russellinn.com.
And on the hill’s website, www.asessippi.com, they’re advertising a 99 cent Sunday special for next month (Jan. 9, 16, and 23) in which you get a full set of rentals, a lift pass for the bunny hill and lessons — all for under a buck. Crazy.
I don’t know how to ski.
The hill offers lessons at a very good price. Group lessons cost $25 an hour but the private lessons are probably the best bargain at $49 an hour, a fraction of what it would cost you at a mountain resort.
64 Percentage of visitors to the resort who come from Manitoba
33 Percentage who come from Saskatchewan
16 Percentage who come
3 Percentage who come