Written by Lyndon Froese // Artwork by Seth Heinrichs

The Falcon Lake ski slopes sat empty and forgotten. It was 1996 and no one wanted to ski in Manitoba anymore.

This would have been hard to believe just a couple decades earlier. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the parking lot could not even fit all the wood-panelled station wagons. Moustache Gord, a long-time regular at the slopes, would plow a section of the lake and provide valet parking on the ice.

In those days the lifts were powered by tractor motors. There was no emergency shut-off switch, so the only way to get the thing to stop was to climb up onto the tractor and turn the key. 

One time someone got hauled up the hill by their scarf. Folks were worried about it, but since no one was hurt, the “...until someone loses an eye” rule wasn’t invoked and everyone soon went back to having fun. This was, after all, some time before safety was even invented. This was back when people hitchhiked. Children on Sesame Street were still crawling through pipes in vacant lots. It was when everyone knew their neighbours and grown-ups still had time for bowling leagues.

But we all know the story: Life got complicated. The pace of the workweek crept into the weekend. Skiing day-trips were among the first to go. Vacations changed too: Air travel became affordable and regular people began to fly far away from Manitoba to the flashy skiing resorts in the mountains.

Eventually, with dwindling crowds, the government-run Falcon Lake ski operation was to be shut down completely. 

Every Day Bob, a gentleman who had been skiing there every day for decades, would have to find something else to do.

Craig Christie and Barb Hamilton, lovers of each other and lovers of a good time, were sure going to miss the slopes. Barb’s mom, Grandma Maud, used to work in the kitchen in the shack at the bottom of the hill, cooking hotdogs for everyone on the wood stove.

“Running water?” Grandma Maud used to say, “Yeah, we have running water: Me! Running up the hill with pails of water!”

Life is change. Grandparents still check their mailboxes daily but have long ago stopped hoping to receive anything that warms their hearts. Buildings that were really something in their day end up in the blades of bulldozers. Long grass engulfs drive-in theatres. Everything anyone has ever conceived of will eventually end up where ideas go to die.

Some call that progress, but Barb and Craig wanted to believe that there was still a place in the world for the rickety old ski slopes.

Their idea was to make the area into a year-round resort, and as carpenters they had the skills to make it happen. Surprising as it seems in hindsight, the bank shared their optimism! Soon, there they were with a young family and the tried-and-true business model of running an alpine ski area in the flatlands province of Manitoba. But, it’s poor carpenters who blame their tools.

Barb and Craig got to work, and with a little creativity the resort and ski-hill combination was in business. The slopes slowly became a destination again.

Every year, the community at the slopes feels stronger: Staff feel like family; patrons become friends. 

Every Day Bob is back too! Regulars, new and old, show up reliably every weekend. Mark Hood, an actually-pretty-good skier is there a lot. He keeps things challenging for himself on the gentle slopes by gliding down backwards. Moustache Gord teaches the youngins to keep their skis parallel on the bunny hill. 

The local biathlon club, the Biathlon Bears, recently even produced an Olympic athlete! That’s a fact that makes everyone feel real proud of their underdog venue. It’s a ski resort with no black diamonds, but there is a scruffy black dog named Islay running around.

Some things are worth holding on to. In modern life it’s easy to get distracted by the ever-faster and ever-brighter lights. It’s easy to buy the idea that the path to satisfaction is paved with infinite choice. It’s easy to believe that we can take care of our own needs and don’t need a community around us all that much anymore. 

We can take an airplane to the mountains. We can ride the freshest powder and sleep in the best hotels. That’s all more accessible to us than it has ever been, and it’s pretty neat. But it’s not clear that we’ll have a better time in Whistler than we will among friends, down the highway at that pocket-sized ski hill where everyone knows our names.