HUNTSVILLE – A revitalized Huntsville gem is looking for a new owner.
Huntsville Ski Club’s Steven’s Hill, once a popular alpine skiing destination on Gryffin Lodge Road for elementary school students and Olympic athletes alike, fell into decades of disuse. The 123-acre property was over grown with trees when Rob Birch and Francine Goulet bought it 15 years ago.
“When we were dating, Rob said, ‘Let me show you the spot where I learned to ski.’ We came here,” said Goulet. “Then we started daydreaming about how amazing it would be to have your own ski hill.” The hill had been closed for about 20 years at that time. When the couple saw a ‘for sale’ sign, they submitted a successful bid and bought the property. “Then we thought, ‘Now what?’” said Goulet with a laugh. The runs were overgrown and lost to bush by the time the couple took ownership. Birch, his brother and Goulet put on their gloves, picked up some chainsaws and got to work. The new owners slowly carved the original runs back into the hill. Now, five runs and two backcountry trails are etched into the landscape, just as they were more than 70 years ago.
And it was not just the runs they revitalized. The couple had contractors get the original T-bar lift operational again as well. What they did not keep was the old chalet.“There was an old, derelict chalet that was completely destroyed by snowmobilers over the years. We tore it down,” said Goulet. “But we found little things in it that we collected. We found price brochures that showed admission of 25 cents. It was really neat, actually.” The couple kept the relics, which they now store in the 2,640-square-foot chalet-style house they built on the property as a residence. Goulet said she, her family and the many friends who come to visit love the serenity and beauty of the property. But the family’s lifestyle is changing and they have decided to sell it. “When we first bought this property, we had grandiose dreams of what it could be. And at that time, it was just Rob and I. We were a couple with no kids,” she said. She added that leaving the property would be heart breaking.
Bob Hutcheson, president of the Huntsville Ski Club, said the hill was active when the club bought it in the late-1940s. “It was started as a project for war veterans, to keep people at home and keep interest for young people in the town,” said Hutcheson.When the club purchased the hill, it enhanced the site and added a cabin, truck-engine operated rope tow and, eventually, electricity. Hutcheson said that, while Steven’s Hill wasn’t the first alpine hill in the area, it was the first with a mechanical lift.The hill hosted provincial ski championships, elementary school student field trips and Olympic champions such as Nancy Green, who has a run named after her at the site. And on Sundays after church, the ski club also hosted ski jump competitions at the site, which were a popular attraction in the region at the time.
The club honoured the original intent of the hill by making it as accessible to youth as possible. Hutcheson said the club offered annual youth memberships for 25 cents, while adult memberships were $5. “We used to throw a formal dance, a black-tie, at the town hall to raise enough money to fund any kid that wanted to ski,” he said. “The kids would get picked up by a bus in Huntsville and taken to the ski club, then brought back at night. That was fun.”
But as technology changed, the club president recommended raising adult membership fees to fund the installation of a chairlift. Members riled against it and the project failed, said Hutcheson.
A new ski club, complete with chairlift, opened in Hidden Valley shortly afterward and the Huntsville Ski Club went into dormancy. It sold the hill for $15,000 in the early-1960s and it turned into Curlew Ski Area until eventually falling into disuse again.
Hutcheson said the revitalization of the property over the last 15 years while under private ownership has been wonderful. And he said he would like to see the property used by youth if possible, now that it is being sold again.
“The highest and best use for that property would be a community subdivision where the hill would be used by families,” he mused. “Then kids could go and ski for an hour after school.”
Excerpted from an article originally published March 5, 2013