The Unknown Private Ski Hill Craze of Southern Ontario, Canada

Liam Abbott |
Ontario, canada,
Craigleith Ski Club Aerial. Credit: Liam Abbott

Many avid skiers and riders may have heard of the various private ski resorts that dot the United States, such as the Yellowstone Club in Montana. These private ski resorts are for the uber-rich and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to join. But have you ever heard of Craigleith Ski Club, Georgian Peaks Ski Club, or Beaver Valley? I didn’t think so. It’s probably because you would never look for them just north of Toronto, Canada, in the area of Collingwood, Ontario.

Collingwood Ontario is home to the highest part of the Niagara Escarpment, which is a ridge that runs over 700kms from the US-Canada border in Niagara Falls up to the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron. This escarpment at its peak is only just over 700ft tall, making it very unimpressive at first glance. Some people may have heard of this region because of Blue Mountain (720ft), one of the only resorts on the Ikon Pass in eastern Canada. But, in addition to Ontario’s biggest ski resort are six other private hills: Craigleith Ski Club, Alpine Ski Club, Georgian Peaks, Osler Bluff’s, Devil’s Glen, and Beaver Valley, not to mention the other private ski hills that dot southern Ontario including Mansfield, Caledon, and The Heights. These private hills range in price and size, with Osler Bluffs and Craigleith Ski Club costing around $50,000CAD initiation to join and offering 33 trails, high-speed lifts, and state of the art snowmaking, all the way down to Caledon, which still costs $2000 for initiation but offer a vertical drop of only 275ft and around 23 runs.

Aerial View – Collingwood. Credit: Liam Abbott

So, the question that all of you are asking – why the f*%& would you pay that much for such a terrible ski hill? Well, as a person who grew up skiing at Craigleith Ski Club since the age of ten, I can tell you it really comes down to four main factors.

1 – Social Life:

The only way you will be able to wrap your head around the large price of joining one of these tiny ski hills is that you are not paying for the skiing; you are paying to be a part of the community, and I mean that in the least snobby of ways. Of course, there is the prestige that you can flaunt being a member of one of these clubs, but it makes the ski experience much more holistic. As a kid and up until I went away to university, I remember getting to the ski lodge at 9 am, getting suited up for lessons, and not leaving until six at night, because after the ski hill closed, everyone moved inside the lodge for après, where the parents would drink and socialize with live music in the background. Kids would have activities in the basement planned for them, or they would play in the snow. People would usually ski for only half the day, checking into the bar at around 2 when lessoned were finished, and the terrain got skied out. Skiing is really only half the day at these clubs.

2 – Lift Lines:

Although this reason is somewhat overstated, because yes, there are still lift lines, they are not nearly as bad as neighboring public hills such as Blue Mountain or Snow Valley, which will experience, especially during the holidays or long weekends, lift lines of 30 minutes!

Ontario, canada,
Alpine Ski Club Lodge. Credit: Liam Abbott

3 – Ski Programs:

To build upon the social aspect of all of these ski hills, the variety of snow programs for all ages, including racing, freestyle, ski cross, private and group lessons, makes it that upwards of 50% of members at some clubs (i.e., Craigleith) participate in some form of ski programming. Why? Because when you ski in southern Ontario, where there is barely any terrain and any snow, it gets boring. Although not an official statistic, southern Ontario is known for being one of the world’s most significant areas for producing world-class ski racers, producing a large share of Canadian Olympic ski racers. Craigleith Ski Club is also home to the biggest racing program in Canada.

4 – Better Infrastructure:

Snowmaking, lodges, chairlifts, and groomers are the four key infrastructures important to any ski resort. Keeping in mind that private ski hills in southern Ontario are on a sliding scale, based on how much it costs to join, the top-level private hills have almost all high-speed chairlifts, large and well-kept lodges, state of the art snowmaking, and enough groomers to groom the resorts two times over (Ontarians are obsessed with grooming – we groom EVERYTHING).

The proximity to Toronto and the lack of good skiing anywhere close by having allowed the unique opportunity for private ski hills to flourish there that is not rivaled by anywhere else in the world. For Torontonian skiers, the idea of private ski hills may seem very normal, but in reality, it’s the part that makes skiing in southern Ontario to be a place like no other on the planet.

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