Spring Skiing at Searchmont

Watch for big changes at Northern Ontario’s largest ski resort

Spring is a skier’s reward for a long winter. Layers of clothing are shed as the slopes bask in warm sunshine, creating perfect soft snow for carving turns; no longer are the chairlifts buffeted by frigid winds. The vibe is laid back and jovial—as though everyone on skis or a snowboard is proclaiming a collective “We earned this!” Of course, it’s also a bittersweet time of year that never lasts long enough. Best to make the most of it.

“It’s what you wait for all winter long,” says Chris Greensted, the general manager of Searchmont Resort, Northern Ontario’s largest ski area, located just north of Sault Ste. Marie. “It’s almost like going to the beach. You get beautiful corn snow in the morning, you ski it until it gets too soft, then you sit on the deck with a cold drink. That’s what it’s all about.”

Greensted was eagerly awaiting spring after a long, cold winter that imparted certain challenges on operations, not to mention skier comfort, with frequent bouts of arctic windchill values. “It seems like we got good weather during the week, then it would be extremely cold on the weekends,” he says. “But with the sheer volume of snow, we hope to stay open until April 14.”

If you haven’t experienced Searchmont, now is a great time to get a taste of some of Ontario’s finest alpine skiing. The resort is offering special Sunday lift ticket rates through season’s end: Purchase one full-price lift ticket, get a second for $25.

With 700 feet of vertical descent, 21 runs serviced by three chairlifts and one surface lift, and 100 acres of terrain, Searchmont offers unparalleled skiing in the heart of the continent. Eight of its runs are over 1 km in length, with plenty of steeps, bumps, and gladed terrain. Searchmont is especially popular amongst alpine race teams for training and competitions. Little wonder the mountain produced Brigitte Acton, a two-time Olympian. For ski-in, ski-out accommodations, the resort also boasts 12 villas and four chalets.

“Searchmont is a place for the diehard skier,” says Greensted. “Our guests aren’t coming for a water park. They’re coming to ski, and that’s what we’re all about.”  

Searchmont received a huge boost in 2018 when it was acquired by Wisconsin Resorts Inc., which operates four other ski areas in the US Midwest and has been involved in the ski industry since 1958. The new ownership group immediately invested in snowmaking equipment—supplementing Mother Nature in blanketing Searchmont’s rugged Canadian Shield landscape to allow for an earlier start to the season. An additional 35 snow guns are in the works for the 2019 season; with this technology in place—in conjunction with extensive landscaping to improve the surface of the ski runs—Greensted predicts opening weekend in November, almost a month earlier than usual.

What’s more, a vastly expanded beginner area will be debuted in 2019, serviced by two Magic Carpet lifts and a new chairlift. “Currently, we have great runs for intermediate and advanced skiers,” says Greensted. “But the transition from the beginner hill to main run is a little too extreme. We’re trying to ease that transition to welcome people to the sport.”

Having been associated with Searchmont since 1979, Greensted has never been more enthusiastic about its future. “We rely on a regional market, including Ontario and Michigan,” he says. American visitors in particular have diminished since 2001, but Greensted is hopeful Searchmont’s base is poised to return. “People are coming back,” he says. “You see a lot of Michigan licence plates in the parking lot, and visitors are telling me that they’re returning for the first time since the ’90s. They can’t believe what they’re missing. In terms of skiing quality, Searchmont is the best around.”

About Conor Mihell

Conor Mihell is an award-winning environmental and adventure travel writer based in Sault Ste. Marie. Read his work in the Globe and Mail, Explore, Cottage Life, Canoe & Kayak, ON Nature, and other magazines and newspapers. He's been a sea kayak guide on Lake Superior for close to 20 years, and has paddled from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. 

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