Holiday Mountain Ski Resort was established in 1959 when founder Noel Later purchased an area in LaRiviere in the Pembina Valley.
The Creation of Holiday Mountain
Noel Later, who previously ran La Riviere ski hill, opened up Manitoba’s first ski resort – Holiday Mountain – which quickly became a skiing destination. In the winter of 1959/60, the resort opened for business and began its legacy of innovation in Canada. The first snow making system, the first chairlift, and the first snow camera have graced the stage at Holiday Mountain. The installation of the first Carpet Lift was Noel’s favorite achievement. He believed that is revolutionized beginner skiing and was the happiest watching children learn his favorite sport. His family continues his tradition of innovation and in January 2013 installed Manitoba’s first Winter Zipline.
In the beginning…
Manitoba’s LaRiviere area has been home to skiing longer than any other locale in the providence. Ever since a group of eight intrepid skiers ventured out to the valley slopes on a cold winter day in 1932, the region has enjoyed and sustained popularity as a ski area for many years.
The first facilities consisted of six runs and a small warming hut with skiers converging on Ida Barklay’s hotel next to the railway station for a wholesome meal and a bit of camaraderie. Because the slopes were half a mile north of town and skiers had to climb up before they could ski down, they were usually quite warm by the time they arrived at the end of the outrun.
Nevertheless, members of the urban ski clubs remained undeterred by the effort. The 250 foot vertical rise made the ski hills the best in the province of the time. In 1941, LaRiviere became the site of the first Rope Tow in the province.
Consisting of two big pulleys at the bottom end and a bull wheel on top, the rope tow was quite basic. The original base hut featured a wood stove at the center of the simple wood frame shelter to warm frozen mittens and hats. Improvements at LaRiviere included additional tows, widen slopes, new runs and better shelter facilities. By 1949, there were three tows in operation. The center tow started from the refreshment hut, another was near Crows Nest and the McCoubrey Special, and the third operated by the beginner slopes.
At the same time, safety issues were addressed by the installation of safety devices on the toes, and the presence of a new safety patrol. Composed of members of the varsity ski club, the team underwent thorough first aid training to qualify under the regulations of CASA’s national ski patrol system. A phone system connecting strategic points of the slopes to the first aid hut greatly facilitated the work of the ski patrol.
A new ski jump for LaRiviere consisted of a 33 foot tower atop a 180 foot hill. Having a landing area with a vertical rise of 70 feet meant that jumps of 150 to 175 feet were possible. This potential was tested the following February at the international ski jumping tournament, to which Later invited local clubs as well as groups from the Lakehead area and the northern United States.
Holiday Mountain opened the first ski rental shop in 1957 with only five sets of equipment. In 1959, the old ski runs were closed and the resort was relocated to just west of the village. The new 92 acre site had a vertical rise of 300 feet. The geography provided six slopes, ranging from 800 to 2,400 feet in length.
That winter, the ski area introduced the province’s first snow-making system. Although Ottawa, Toronto and the Laurentians had makeshift machines, this was a step up in terms of technology. Snow was created by mixing compressed air and water, then, forcing the combination to nozzles that revolve like a yard sprinkler to spread it and blanket it on the slopes. The large quantity of water required in the snow making process was drawn from the Pembina river at the foot of the new ski slopes. In making snow for two of the six runs, Later hoped the machine would extend the ski season to 5 months, from early November to the end of March. The equipment was part of an major investment that also includes a Poma lift tow with a 500 skier-per-hour capacity. Combined with the two rope tows, that brought the uphill capacity to 1,200 skiers per hour, the resort developed a chalet with a ski shop, ski rentals, a coffee bar, ski patrol room, floodlights, a first aid hut and parking for several hundred cars.
The official opening of the new ski resort took place on Saturday, January 23, 1960, when the Hon. Gurnee Evans, Manitoba’s Minister of Trading Commerce pulled the switch on the new Poma lift. Developments continued in the years that followed. A childcare facility was opened in the basement of the chalet. Another new feature was a ski storage locker rentals, which saved weekend skiers the trouble of carting equipment back and forth.
In 1965, Later moved the 50 foot ski jump to the resort from the old Skyside East of town, to encourage and train beginning jumpers. That December, Dr. Ivan Jackson and Frank Styles, two former WSC jumping competitors, could be seen soaring off the jump. To encourage increased skiing traffic, the resort revamped some of the existing ski slopes and added a T-bar. An airport 4 miles south of town was opened for ski-equipped planes. In 1972, the jump was renamed the Bill Chalmers Memorial Ski Jump.
The record for the longest jump in Manitoba was set in 1967 at Holiday Mountain’s International Jump Meet. Joe Nowak’s record of 168 feet still stands. Joe is a world class athlete and long-time friend of the Later Family. He founded the Pine Valley Park Ski hill in Duluth, Minnesota, and a few years ago, it was renamed the Joe Nowak Ski Hill in his honor.”
Near the end of the 1960’s, Later launched a three-year project to expand the ski chalet. Bringing the total space to 24,000 ft., the renovations included a new Alpine-style wing with a large lunchroom, fireplace and picture windows overlooking the slopes, and new rental shop, a refurbished licensed restaurant and a Cocktail Lounge in the A-frame section of the chalet.
When the new chalet officially opened in 1969, the Resort featured 11 runs, a ski jump, and a 5 km cross-country ski trail covering all types of terrain.
Holiday Mountain successfully won the bid to hold the Canadian Junior Nordic Championships in February 1970. In 1972, Holiday Mountain added 10 A-frame cabins to the site and also began construction of a new day lodge to serve as a clubhouse for a nine hole golf course that would turn Holiday Mountain into a year-round operation.
The golf opened in 1989 and Holiday Mountain opened the newly-expanded rental shop with over 800 sets of rentals, as they had to handle a large bookings of schoolchildren skiing from Monday to Friday each week. Skiers were ecstatic, as many had long yearned for accommodations closer to the ski hills.
On December 14, 1985, Holiday Mountain ski area became the second Manitoba resort to operate a chairlift.
During the 1990s, Holiday Mountain added snowboarding to its activity list. In 1997, it developed a website that provided snow camera coverage, broadcasting pictures of the slopes taken from the top of the ski lodge every 30 minutes. Four years later, Noel bought a Wonder Carpet lift for the bunny hill. This is the first of its kind between Calgary and Toronto. It was fast, easy to use, and the safest beginners lift in the industry.
The Legend of the Boxcar Township
Before Holiday Mountain built their A-Frames and lodge, some ski enthusiasts had taken matters into their own hands. In the late 1960s an unusual phenomenon began to manifest itself in the La Riviera ski valley beside the resort. Initially a village appeared that looks more like a derailment of cabooses and freight cars. The founder of this unusual insulation was William P Alsip, president of a building supply company in Winnipeg. Legend has it that Alsip was discussing the construction of a lodge with Jim Davidson, owner Of the Royal George Hotel, when several Canadian national Railway men overheard the conversation and suggested a caboose. At a cost of less than $5,000, including transportation and renovations, the price was right. Soon a veritable ‘boxcar village’ of 12 cabooses and freight cars were dotting the landscape immediately behind the chalet.
Some of the insulated units were modified to look homey, while others retain the unmistakable look of the 38′ x 8.5 boxcar or caboose. Reports of the ski village spread far and wide, with a story about boxcars even appearing in the New York Times. In the article, Alsip explained the advantages of owning a ski chalet. No longer do the family of seven have to load their skis and equipment into their car every weekend; they can store a small amount of food in the box car and leave their snowmobiles parked outside. The convenience of the boxcar village continued to appeal to skiers well into the 21st-century, with the units changing hands several times.