If you didn’t know better, it would be easy to drive right by Snow Valley and have no idea it was there. Standing a mere 85 metres, The Valley—as she’s affectionately called—is hardly a monument to vertical. Nevertheless, the saying “Good things come in small packages” is an understatement for this Ontario gem.
Snow Valley was founded in 1952 by the Triple ‘S’ ski club (for Skiing with Safety and Sociability). Although they hid behind the guise of personal well-being and development, prominent member Nick Demy was known to blow stumps out of the ground with dynamite. Pictures of a 19-year old shirtless Nick, dynamite stuffed in the back pockets of his jeans, attest to his pioneering methods, devotion to the sport and commitment to the club’s mantra.
Triple S ultimately morphed into Snow Valley when it was purchased by Olympic ski racer and jumper, Hans Eder. The Eder family ran the hill for 25 years, installing T-bars, chairlifts, night skiing, snowmaking and two huge central wood-burning fireplaces with metal hoods that were—and remain—focal points of a funky pine-paneled chalet.
In 1987 Hans sold out to a group of Barrie businessmen who hired Rob Butler, Canada’s top TV ski-tip pro, as general manager. This proved a highly strategic move: with instruction at its heart, Snow Valley blossomed under its mission to be the best place to learn to ski or board in Canada, endlessly promoting “Great Family Fun.” It was the first resort in Canada to get a Magic Carpet and has since added the longest one, too. It followed with the first Six-pack Chairlift with a carpet entrance lane; an instructor teaching five four-year-olds could fit all of them onto one chair without any assistance. The resort lowered all their toilet seats, organized Christmas dinners, built a tubing hill, donated its instructors to various volunteer teaching programs and on every Sunday in March, sold a one-hour lesson, lift ticket and full rental in the Discover Skiing program for a whopping $9.95 (a further $10 was added if you wanted to snowboard; these days the program is still only $15.95!). An average Discover day often saw over 900 packages sold. Hundreds of families, mostly from low-income backgrounds, were able to take part in a full day of fresh-air activity that encouraged fitness, leadership, participation and problem solving, all for less than a single day ticket to Whistler Blackcomb. Skiing may be a rich man’s sport but Snow Valley aimed to open it up for everyone.
More innovation followed: the first Pipe Dragon ever built to create friendly, two-metre walls, two hour lift tickets, and $5 passes for 50 year-olds. The Valley also nurtured some world-class talent with numerous National Team racers getting their start here as well as hot young freeski phenom, Jamieson Irvine.
My father was the aforementioned Rob Butler, and at the tender age of only 20 months, I was tearing around The Valley on my skis. When I hit 14 I started to moan and whine to dad that Snow Valley wasn’t cool. I was at that crucial age where every aspect of life either adds or seriously detracts from your popularity. One by one, all of my friends changed allegiance to the bigger hills and I begged dad to make Snow Valley cooler by building bigger jumps and buying a new Pipe Dragon. But he refused, understanding Snow Valley’s purpose. With one of the largest ski schools in Ontario, they were there not to progress the sport, but to fertilize it; to keep it growing no matter what, teaching children of all backgrounds about the magic of physical fitness and winter fun.
Whistler has the vertical, Banff has the views and Quebec has the poutine, but Snow Valley has always had the essence of skiing. By making skiing accessible, affordable and undaunting, Snow Valley played a crucial role not just in my life, but in Canada’s ski profile for over 55 years.
Location: Barrie, Ont.
Vertical: 85 m
Terrain: 19 runs
Snowfall: 275 cm
Lifts: Three chairs, three handle tows, three carpets, two tube lifts