Ski Jump on the Roof of the Grandstand,
Built for the Calgary Winter Festival, 1921
Postcards from the Past, PC 963
Because Calgary is so close to the mountains, a ski hill within the city may seem unnecessary. What we need to remember is that at one time, getting to Banff and the surrounding area was not a simple drive up the highway. It could be a journey fraught with peril along the Banff Coach Road (so called, I believe, because it was designed for coaches not cars!) For a devoted skier, this was not an acceptable situation so over the years ski hills have been developed in and near Calgary.
A pioneering organization in the development of local ski hills was the Calgary Ski Club which was founded, originally, early in the 20th century by a handful of Scandinavian immigrants interested in ski jumping. The presence of this group led to the strangest sight ever in Calgary winter history, the ski jump on top of the grandstand at the Exhibition Grounds (see the postcard above).
In its second incarnation, founded in the 1930s, The Calgary Ski Club looked for a suitable venue in or near the city so that avid skiers could ski during the week. Golf courses provided some possibilities. They were unused during the winter and some, like Shaganappi, were owned by the city. So it was to Shaganappi that the Ski Club turned in 1938. A perennial problem in Calgary, of course, is the chinook wind and that, coupled with the drought of the 1930s made skiing in the city a sporadic affair. The Ski Club experimented with farm equipment and eventually started using a grain blower to blow snow from areas where it was abundant onto the hill. Despite its great location (on a bus route), the installation of a rope tow and its popularity, Shaganappi ski hill lasted only until 1951. It wasn't until some 20 years later that the City invited a private operator to re-develop the runs, exactly where they had been when the ski club had them.
Asked to move from the municipal course the club sought another hill, and found what it thought was a good choice, on the north side of what is now Coach Hill, just above Bowness. It was not a unanimously popular choice and the development of Paskapoo in 1961 kind of put an end to that idea.
View of the Chalet at Happy Valley Ski Hill, 1950
Happy Valley Calgary's Year 'Round Playground
Paskapoo remained a public hill and many of us learned to ski there. It would later become Canada Olympic Park. Just down the road a bit (advertised as being 5 miles from the city limits) was Happy Valley, “Calgary’s year ‘round playground,” which included a ski hill with a chalet and two poma lifts. The photograph of the beautiful chalet comes from a brochure dating from 1950 that we have in the Community Heritage and Family History collection here at the Central Library. Also in that collection is the book I used to find out about the Calgary Ski Club, Calgary Goes Skiing: a history of the Calgary Ski Club by David Mittelstadt. If you are interested in finding out more about skiing in and around Calgary, we have some great resources in the Local History Room and we would be happy to show you the ropes (rope tows,perhaps ).