Red Mountain: from Mine to Ski Hill

by Willa Condy, Trail, BC

The lure of gold drew miners to Rossland in the late 1890s. They brought dreams of hitting it rich. Some of these seekers were Scandinavians who also brought their skis.
These early residents formed a ski club and on Feb. 15, 1897 the first reordered ski race in Canada was held from the top of Red Mountain down the South side to the present location of the Rossland Museum.
That first race was organized and won by Olaus Jeldness, a Norwegian mining engineer who was instrumental in encouraging skiing in Rossland. That first race was held during the first Rossland Winter Carnival in 1898. Jeldness is remembered for his love of ski jumping but he also did ski running, the ancestor of today’s downhill. He also created and donated the elaborate Jeldness trophy for future winners of the race. The trophy is now displayed at the Rossland Museum.
Even after the mines closed on Red Mountain the skiing continued, by 1929 the Trail-Rossland Ski Club was formed with 20 members. The group split into two separate clubs in 1933.
It was a time of growth and in 1934 the Rossland Ski Club built a cabin and jump hill on MonteCristo. This hill saw numerous ski competitions, including the Western Canadian Amateur finals. The Trail Ski Club had a hill on Red Mountain. Both groups had a cabin which was used for warming up between runs.
Sometimes skiers would head up to ski after work at the CM&S Smelter in Trail. After skiing runs on Red the Trail skiers would actually ski back down the hill to Trail.
The groups were separate but worked together on installing a rope tow on Red Mountain. It was gas-operated and it changed the nature of skiing by allowing skiers to ski down and hold onto the rope tow to go back up, increasing the amount of runs enjoyed in a day of skiing. It would also decrease the length of time the gloves or mittens lasted as the friction of the rope would take their toll on the gloves.
Skiing in the 1940s was also a more dangerous sport. The bindings were Kandahar bindings which locked the ski boot firmly on the ski. They were more commonly called bear trap bindings as a fall could result in a broken leg.
In the 1940s both clubs built additional ski cabins to expand the terrain that their members could access and ski. By 1947 the Rossland Ski Club (the Red Mountain Ski Club) and the Trail Ski Club combined again to form the Red Mountain Ski Club.
More changes were in the wind with the building of a ski lodge at the base of Red Mountain and the replacement of the rope tow with the first chair lift that went to the top of Red. The lift was opened Friday, Dec. 26, 1947. Later that season RED hosted the annual Triple I International Intercollegiate Invitational ski meet.

This picture was taken around 1971 on Granite Mountain at Red Mountain ski resort. Sheila Condy was 51 when this picture was taken. She was a member in the 1940s of the Trail Ski Club and recalled skiing back to Trail after going skiing at Red.

The 1950s saw the growth at Red Mountain with the rope tow being switched from gas to electric and relocated lower on Red, increasing the skiing terrain. The Red Mountain Ski Patrol was formed.
Red continued to evolve as a community hill, with members volunteering to brush and clean runs during the summer months to get a discount on their family ski passes.
Ski racing was not forgotten and in the 1960s young racers joined the Red Mountain Racers to learn and perfect their racing skills.
A new Poma detachable chairlift from the lodge carried skiers up to Back Trail. In 1961, a full-time manager was hired, and in 1965, the Granite Mountain chairlift – twice as long and twice as high as the Red Mountain chairlift – was built. This increased by one more mountain the area that the skiers could enjoy.
Also in the 1960s, a local Rossland skier gained international attention. Her name was Nancy Greene and in 1968 when Red Mountain hosted the first World Cup Event held in Canada the hometown showed up to cheer as Greene won her second world cup event.
The 1970s saw more changes as a t-bar was added and the old single person chair on Red Mountain was replaced with a double chair. That was followed in 1976 by a new 3 person chairlift on Granite Mountain in Paradise Basin.
The 1980s brought a different type of change. The expansion of ski area costs money and by 1987 the debt load to the ski hill was $1,105,000. The hill was put up for sale in 1988 and in May of 1989 Eric Skat-Peterson and a group of six Canadian private investors purchased Red Mountain.
Changes continued in the 1990s with the replacement of the Granite chairlift with the Silverlode and Motherlode triple chairs.
Ownership changed again in June 2004, to a private investment group led by Howard Katkov of San Diego, California.
Red continued to evolve with more runs and in December 2014 Grey Mountain was added to the mix. The addition of over nine hundred acres of new ski terrain put Red into a tie for 18th in skiable acres in North America (top three percent), and 8th in skiable acres in Canada (top five percent).
From its start with miners in the 1890s Red Mountain continues to change and evolve. In 2017 a new idea for fundraising was tried for Red. Called “Fight the Man. Own the Mountain.” This successful crowdfunding campaign raised $2,561,250. This was 171% of the $1,500,00 sought through crowdfunding. 722 investors wanted to help Red stay a local ski hill.
Now skiers are eyeing their equipment and starting their pre-ski conditioning routines. Dreaming of the snowfalls ahead and the opening of Red Mountain ski season.