By Alan Sorensen
Pickings look to be slim for Hi-Line area downhillers who want to get a jump on the 1999-00 ski and snowboard season this Thanksgiving weekend.
The Big Mountain at Whitefish will have just one chair to the shorter lower mountain slopes in operation Saturday and the other two nearest ski hills -- Hidden Valley and Showdown -- have put their openings on hold until early December.
Thursday morning, Big Mountain officials reported receiving 12 inches of fresh powder on the mountain, but the Tenderfoot lift, Chair 3, will be the only chair running tomorrow. Tickets are $5 for Chair 3. The early season cost will be $20 per day pass from the time the other chairs open until Dec. 17.
Staff at Hidden Valley Ski Area in Alberta's Cypress Hills Provincial Park about 90 miles north of Havre plan to have the hill up and running on Dec. 11. Those plans are apparently tentative, though.
For more information about Hidden Valley's plans, call the office at (403) 893-3961. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
George Willett, owner of Showdown Ski Area, said his operation located just south of Neihart in the Little Belt Mountains about 175 miles from Havre is expected to open a week before Hidden Valley. The area is located at the second highest mountain pass in the state.
"We're not opening Thanksgiving weekend, as we'd planned," Willett said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Our next day would be the first Friday in December. Again, we'd probably need a substantial snow storm to make that happen."
A Mercy Flight helicopter that crashed at the hill while evacuating a worker who sustained a minor head injury while doing some training didn't add to the delay at all, Willett said. The crew had loaded the man aboard and the helicopter was taking off when it was apparently caught by a gust of wind and driven into one of the hill's chair lifts and the ground. No one on board was hurt.
The chair lift sustained very minor damage, Willett said.
"It scratched the paint and bent a bar. We straightened it up and are set to go," he said.
The helicopter remained on site until an FAA accident team could investigate. It was removed last Friday.
"We had a snow report that we had 8 feet of helicopter and still falling, but we didn't know if that was appropriate," Willett said. "The guy who got hurt is going to be back at work pretty soon here, so we should be in good shape."
The only hold up, he said, is snow.
"All we need is that white stuff. We're set to jet here."
For updates on Showdown's snowfall and opening dates, call the Showdown Snow Phone at 406-771-1300. The ski hill's number is 406-236-5522.