Fortress Mountain Ski Resort is eyeing a 2020 opening
From Rocky Mountain Outlook.
According to its redevelopment plan, Fortress Mountain Ski Resort is on the road to open by December 2020.
The resort has received approval from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) last spring, to replace its potable water system and refurbish a sewer line. The company is hoping to complete this $4 million project this spring and if receiving the OK from AEP, they will begin constructing a new day log and lift system this summer.
Located 30 km south of Nakiska Ski Area on Highway 40, the resort has been closed since 2004. Today, KPOW cat skiing operates at the resort and they have been doing so since 2011.
Some private investors have been getting together for this plan and Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners have created a master plan.
On its first phase, the plan will make use of the resort’s existing ski terrain and refurbish five chairlifts. Many of the lifts will also be realigned to improve the resort’s fall line for a total lift capacity of 2,500 skiers.
This first part of the plan includes a building of 36,000 square feet that will be used as a day lodge at the base of the resort that will contain tickets, rentals, guest services, public toilets, lockers, ski school, a restaurant and a bar. The resort will install a magic carpet for beginners and a tube park for enthusiasts.
Chris Chevalier, president of Fortress Mountain Ski Resort said: “We’re excited, it’s been a long road, but shovels are in the ground and we’re moving forward, “and “we want modern amenities, but with the touch of the old Fortress.”
With the top elevation of 2,500 the resort’s longest vertical run will be about 700 m when avalanche conditions permit. This will be rival Sunshine Village’s Delirium Dive.
When the resort is all built out, it will have nine lifts across three ridges allowing skiers and boarders to access 2,200 acres of skiable terrain.
The final phase of the master plan envisions a second base lodge, a mountain top restaurant, overnight accommodation for approximately 100 guests, employee housing and a potential Nordic ski facility. All this will depend on capital and skier demand.
However, it is not the intention of Fortress to compete with mega resorts like Whistler, Sunshine Village or Lake Louise.
“The Red Mountains and the Whitewaters and the Castle Mountains, they’re special, and if we can do that, but with our own feel, then I think we’ll be successful,” said Chevalier.
Compared to other resorts that have failed to materialise such as Jumbo Glacier Resort in BC, Fortress Mountain Ski Resort is making progress thanks to have been previously developed, as there is around $40 million of existing infrastructure already in place.
To fund the first phase of the redevelopment of Fortress, the company raised more than $5 million from private investors through the Alberta Investor Tax Credit program.
Launched in January 2017, the government-funded program offers investors a 30 per cent tax credit if they provide capital to small businesses in non-traditional sectors, such as technology, health and tourism.
“We were one of the first companies to be given a check mark that were an eligible business,” said Andy Waddell, Fortress’s chief financial officer.
Waddell said that the tax credit has helped a lot as typically ski resorts and golf courses cannot attract enough investment compared to the tech industry.
Most of the investors are from Calgary and they are investing in the resort as they are passionate about it and about skiing.
“They want to be part of a team and part of the excitement,” said Waddell. He also said that part of their business plan is to attract the hordes of skiers and boarders that typically go to British Columbia to ski.
“Fifty per cent of Albertan ski days are outside the province,” said Waddell. “That’s a huge number of skiers that leave Alberta to ski simply because Alberta’s ski hills are full.”
The company also hopes to attract new Canadians to the sport with their gentle ski runs at the base of the resort and with the tube park. They also expect to have lots of skiers return to the mountain where they’ve learnt how to ski or board.
The once busy ski resort in Kananaskis Country has a long history dating back to 1967 when it was called the Snowridge family ski area.
By the 1970s, it was purchased by the Aspen Ski Company, which changed its name to Fortress Mountain to reflect the name of the rocky monolith that towers over the resort’s slopes.
In the 1990s it was the turn of being sold to the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), that owns six resorts throughout North America, including Nakiska and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. At that time, it seemed the resort got a renaissance when Freestyle Alberta used it as a training centre, but with the lifts nearing time to be replaced and with less skiers visiting, RCR announced the closure of the area in 2004. The resort has not operated since.
In the year 2005, Banff Rail Co. bought the resort, but it could not reopen it and in 2007 the resort was abandoned after the province withdrew the lease from the owner after failing to repair an unsafe bridge, maintain the buildings and paying rent and taxes.
After being dormant for three years a new group of investors bought the lease in 2010 and a year later KPOW cat skiing started operating with a single 14-passenger Pisten Bully snowcat.
The resort has been used as a backdrop for some of Hollywood’s blockbusters such as ‘Inception,’ ‘The Bourne Legacy’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain.’
Under the new ownership the resort has hauled away dozens of truckloads of rubbish from the site and an inspection of the access bridge deemed it safe for travel.
Fortis has installed 30 new power poles to supply the resort with commercial power. Even all this looks promising, there is still lots of work to do, but all is in track to open the resort in December 2020.
“We’re excited,” said Chevalier. “It’s been a long time coming.”
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Featured Image: Fortress Mountain Ski Resort is eyeing a 2020 opening. Photo: Fortress Mountain Ski Resort.