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This article was published 19/11/2017 (872 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's not even December, and there's already enough snow at Stony Mountain Ski Area for members of the Winnipeg Freeriders freestyle ski club to hit the slopes.
"It's huge, huge for us," said Freeriders coach Keegan Jackson, overseeing a group of mostly young freestyle skiers practising flips, rail slides, and other tricks at the ski hill north of Winnipeg on Sunday.
"Usually we're not skiing until around Christmastime, which means that everyone else has a month on us, just about," said Jackson, referring to freestyle ski clubs in other parts of Canada. "So this really means that we can be where everyone else is by the time we're at our first contest."
Stony Mountain Ski Area took advantage of a chilly November to fire up the snow-making machines and kick off its season on Sunday, Nov. 19. That marks the hill's earliest-ever opening since it was established in 1967, said owner Heather Campbell-Dewar.
"In 2014, we opened on the twenty-second of November, and in 2003 we opened on the twenty-third," said Campbell-Dewar. "So we beat it by three days."
The hill has accumulated between 90 and 100 hours worth of artifically created snow, Campbell-Dewar estimated, but more manufactured powder is still to come.
This year's early start comes after four "challenging years" of late winter openings and early spring closings, Campbell-Dewar said. Last year, Stony Mountain saw its latest-ever opening, on Dec. 18. This year, Campbell-Dewar sounds optimistic about prospects for the business, which her family has owned since 1988.
"It's an Olympic year too, so you hope that everyone starts getting the hype with the Olympics."
Being an avid downhill skier in Manitoba usually involves "a lot of travel" to mountainous provinces, said Dave Parnell, who grew up skiing at Stony Mountain. Parnell serves as president of the Winnipeg Freeriders and acting president of the Manitoba Freestyle Ski Association.
"We go where the snow is, man," said Parnell. "Basically, if we can get out early, we get out as early as we can."
Parnell's 13-year-old son Rowan Parnell also started skiing at Stony Mountain. In between downhill runs on Sunday, he said an early start to the season means "more skiing, more reps."
"It makes me better as a skier, so I can practise earlier," he said.
Stony Mountain may be a relatively small ski hill, but that's a boon to freestyle skiers such as the Winnipeg Freeriders, said Keegan Jackson. Young freestylers can take advantage of the hill's fast-moving rope pulley to get to the top quickly. That means more chances to improve their skills on the way down.
"Our lap time is 10 seconds up (the hill), compared to a 15-minute chair ride" that skiers might face on a mountain slope, explained Jackson. "So in terms of rail skiing, we can push out some really, really, really good skiers."
Jackson said Manitoba's young freestyle skiers are "getting closer and closer to catching up to the bigger provinces" in terms of competitive freestyling.
"Both at a club level and at a provincial level, we're finally getting to the point where we can really compete with those mountain provinces."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.