The purpose of this post is to talk about a subject that is unmentionable in polite conversation in Collingwood, you never know if the person you are talking to is a member or just one of us regular folks.
I believe private ski clubs on the north-east face of Niagara Escarpment should be open to the public.
There you go private ski club member’s, I’ve said it out loud !!! Now clean up that coffee you just spat all over your computer screen, leave the pitchforks and torches alone for a second and hear me out.
As I have mentioned in this space many times before, I am a card-carrying conservative. More in line with the Margaret Thatcher brand of conservatism, rather than the neo-con rich gets richer and the poor be damned type. I do however have a few socialist fibres buried deep within my soul. So I find the whole idea of private ski (and golf) clubs distasteful. Even if I could afford to belong to one (I can’t), I would never join out of principle.
For those of you who read this blog that are not from the Collingwood/Blue Mountain area I will explain what private ski clubs are all about. The rest of you bear with me for a couple of sentences.
Most clubs were started on private land in the 1940’s to the west of Collingwood on a ridge where the Niagara Escarpment starts/finishes depending which way you look at it. Due to the phenomenon of lake effect snow, this ridge sets the scene for perfect skiing locales, the best in Ontario in fact. If you have skied other places in the world that doesn’t say much, but it’s all we have. The people whom originally started these clubs are called the founders, they cleared the land and basically built the skiing areas from nothing. That’s great and those pioneers and their families have very rightly had 70 years of exclusive unfettered access to this resource. But now in 2015, in my humble opinion, it’s time for you to share.
The Escarpment has four private not for profit ski clubs, Osler Bluff, Alpine, Craigleith and Georgian Peaks, they are known colloquially as the “Big Four”. There’s also one public ski area Blue Mountain Resort.
South of Collingwood, there is another private club called Devils Glen. I have no problem with that club staying completely private. I put it in the same general category as places like Moonstone or Sun Valley with smaller hills and shorter runs.
Those Big Four represent 60 or 70% of the best skiing terraine in Ontario. They do not completely ban non-members. Here’s what you have to do to ski in any of the clubs: Be invited by a member who signs you in, you can then purchase a lift ticket. The clubs limit this activity to once or twice on a weekend per month for non-members. To join a club you have to pay an initiation fee, which I believe is (someone will correct me if I’m wrong please)somewhere in the region of $15,000 – $70,000 which varies by club. Then pay membership dues each year which are probably $3,000 – $7,000 depending on programs. As a non-member a visitor has to be accompanied by a member while skiing at all times. I used to do this occasionally, but I always felt like an outsider, everyone knows everyone else and they all know you are not a member. I found it all a little uncomfortable so I don’t bother doing it anymore.
I’m sure some of you from other places in the world are having the same reaction I had when I first heard about this some fifteen years ago: “THAT’S NOT FAIR”and “Why has someone not done anything about it?” The answer is quite simple; most of the movers and shakers of this province, and probably Canada are members of one of these clubs, so they’re quite happy keeping the status quo. Leaving the great unwashed to spend hours in lineups at Blue Mountain on winter weekends, leaving the well healed to ski in peace.
There is a model that works that is fair and equitable. The Toronto Ski Club. It owns all the land west from Happy Valley ski run in Blue Mountain Resort to Craigleith Ski Club. They lease the land back to Blue Mountain which enables us schleppers to ski at the North Base. I ski their often and TSC members seem quite happy with the set up.
I have a very easy remedy to this situation. The private clubs make skiing available to the general public through lift tickets. Just relax the sign in rule. Keep access to the lodge, club house, or any of its other facilities private by all means. This shares the skiing with the rest of us and is a fair and equitable usage of a finite resource.
Before you members get on the attack and tell me that the private ski club model is exactly the same as private golf clubs, I don’t consider this a good comparable. There are numerous none private golf opportunities for public play locally and all over Ontario. As far as skiing goes it’s the other way around more private than DECENT public skiing. How is that fair with the limited resource skiing is in Ontario?
I hear lots of people talking about how unjust the current situation is, but only in very hushed tones. I think it’s time this conversation was brought forward in the public domain.