It’s all downhill from here New owners opening shuttered Holiday Mountain a year early

Manitoba skiers are getting a late Christmas present: the reopening of an iconic local hill.

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Manitoba skiers are getting a late Christmas present: the reopening of an iconic local hill.

Holiday Mountain Resort, located about 166 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, near La Riviere, is back in business Dec. 26, with new ownership, a new manager, new coats of paint and new plans for the future.

Renee and Paul Warkentin became the official owners Dec. 1, and while they originally planned to wait until the 2023-24 season to reopen, they decided to push it forward a full year.

“They are really happy out here,” Renee Warkentin said Friday. “A lot of people are excited. Everybody knows about Holiday Mountain.

“We don’t even have our website up yet and already six schools have called us, wanting to come out.

With two hills within driving distance of Winnipeg closed this year — Frost Fire Park in North Dakota (due to broken snow-making machines) and Stony Mountain Ski Area (for sale) — it seemed like a good time to build a connection with skiers and snowboarders, she said.

“We wanted to renovate the place this year, so we weren’t going to open yet, but we thought it was so important we decided to open.”

The new owners say they have cleaned up the facility’s two buildings and kitchens, rewired the chair lift, and are busy building up a base level on the runs using snow-making machines. More extensive renovations will continue once the ski season is over, Warkentin said.

The resort has been around for more than 60 years and has 11 runs. However, it was shuttered last winter due to drought.

The business had been family-run prior to its sale in 2016 to the company which operates Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta.

Three years ago, the couple asked if it was willing to sell the Manitoba hill. They were rebuffed at the time, Warkentin said, but a few months back, the owner tracked them down to see if they were still interested.

Last month, at their kitchen table, a handshake deal was made which turned into the couple into official owners Dec. 1.

Kristi Langan, executive director of Manitoba Alpine Ski Division (Ski Manitoba), said its hundreds of members are looking forward to hitting the slopes.

“We definitely want them open, I’ll tell you that,” Langan said. “We lost a club from there as well, the La Riviere Ski Club. And with Frost Fire (North Dakota) not being an option during COVID days, we’re looking forward to Holiday Mountain reopening.

“It makes a great day trip. This is great, and we wish them all the luck — and we’ll be giving them business.”

Abe Sawatzky, operations manager, said he has been skiing Holiday Mountain since he was in high school.

“I have fun memories,” Sawatzky said. “I made multiple trips every year to Holiday Mountain and a group of friends would come with us and make it a yearly thing. It was very sad when they closed for a season.

“This place has definitely been part of our life.”

Sawatzky said he now has two young children, and a third on the way, and is looking forward to introducing them to skiing.

“Winters here are really long and we want to create a fun environment for kids.”

Warkentin said the resort plans to be open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with night skiing 7-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

“That’s a memory from when we were young,” she said. “Both my husband and I grew up in this area. This place has a lot of memories for us.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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