About an hour west of the bustling metropolis that is Calgary, Alberta, lies a destination frozen in time. One could say that it is not so much frozen, but rather melting, as the once sturdy lifts and lodge fall further and further into dilapidation. But for the moment, Fortress Mountain Resort remains intact, relentlessly battered by the harsh alpine elements that persist in Kananaskis Country, at the forefront of the Canadian Rockies.
From 1967 – 2004, the resort operated in high popularity, receiving lots of traffic consisting of Sunice clad, party hungry individuals who were ready to immerse themselves in the world of snow sports. This was a crew that was obsessed with passion over the blossoming new era of freeskiing. Hell, it would appear that even freestyle pioneer and Armada co-founder, the great JP Auclair made appearances at Fortress in its hay-day. At a time when the sport was just beginning to exponentially evolve, Fortress came about as a meeting ground for this recently found enthusiasm. With Calgary being Canada’s third largest city, there was no lack of interest towards the mountain oasis. As snowboard guru and former Fortress Mountain dishwasher Rob Stevens put it, “this whole place was made up of people who just lived and breathed the sport”. But as time progressed, and the relentless wheels of capitalism churned onward, it became evident that more money was going to be necessary to keep the lights shining and lifts spinning. While the resort was still pumping out profit at the time, the plug was pulled in ’04, and Fortress came to grinding halt.
As situations like this tend to go, it’s hard to track down just exactly what it was that forced the shut down of such a thriving body of snow enthusiasm. While we as humans tend to search for conclusive answers, we are more often than not left with nothing more than a shadowy impression of what could have been. Scattered photographs and dwindling buildings are almost all that remains of this once great mecca… almost. Areas as impactful as Fortress tend to leave behind people who cling to the time that was, and hunger for it to shine again. This is where our hero’s come in to play; Chris ‘Chevy’ Chevalier, Rob Stevens, Chris Mueller, and ‘Mountain’ Melvin Oliver. Among other loyal Fortress lovers, these four renaissance men have taken it upon themselves to resurrect the sleeping giant, and bring her back to her former glory. There is still plenty of work to be done, but while the money is amassed and the infrastructure rebuilt, they’ve started a new chapter in the Fortress history book to fill the time. KPOW Cat Skiing Operation is up and running, showing a new generation of guests all that these beautiful towers of rock, ice, and powder have to offer. But their mission is far from over.
Black Crows has made it a part of their mission to uncover the ski areas like Fortress that are scattered across the world. The mesmerizing skiing of Mark Abma and Callum Pettit are a welcome calling, and show that Fortress is not dead, but just waiting for people to return to her ready and waiting hills.
It’s true that nothing, even in the seemingly everlasting saga of skiing, can last forever. While this might act as a solemn reminder of the fleeting state that our industry constantly lives in, it should also serve to better help us all appreciate the beauty that we currently get to immerse ourselves in. Your local ski hill, from the midwest rope tows to the Rocky Mountain mega resorts, are living in more or less of the prime of their existence. It wasn’t all that long ago that Fortress was viewed as the thriving ski community of its area. Now it sits patiently awaiting its revival, holding the memories, and a piece of all those who traveled here before. While it seems like there are more nuisances to complain about than ever at ski areas across the world, there are also more good things than one will ever realize. As the memories of the future, it’s up to us to keep these magnets of joy and community thriving for as long as we can. And if we can do a good enough job at that, then just like Fortress, we too can count on our friends in years to come to keep the dream alive, and to revive the ghosts of ski seasons past.