Friday April 25, 2014

Harper opens on high note

Best conditions in 40 years, some say, and they would know
Mike Youds

Three generations of Daburgers pose for a family portrait outside the lodge on opening day Saturday. From left, Lisa, Elizabeth, Norm and Max, 10, who one day hopes to continue the family operation started by his late grandfather.

Family ties to Harper Mountain are so strong that even a daybreak temperature of -24 C couldn't deter skiers from hitting the slopes for Saturday's season opener.

They were rewarded with bright sunshine, warm smiles, crackling fireplaces and some of the best conditions seen since the family-run ski hill opened in 1973.

"Happy New Year" was the customary greeting on the weekend as perennial visitors reunited at the lodge and suited up for another season. They weren't talking about Jan. 1.

"It's the love of Harper," said Lloyd Wakefield, who'd already jumped the gun with several pre-opening visits. "We're dedicated. Of all the mountains, this is the best."

Abundant early snow, with a subsequent warming that helped set up the base, got the season off on firm footing. Another 20 centimetres were icing on the cake and made conditions almost ideal for this time of season, said rentals manager Mike Woods.

"It's the best I've ever been here for," Wakefield said. "It's fantastic."

"It's been sunny and today it's awesome," said Sarah Trinker, who's been skiing the hill since she was a toddler. "My grandfather was a co-founder of the mountain," she added with visible pride. They even named the Peter Huser Chairlift after him.

Skiers were happy despite the fact that only the T-bar was operating on Saturday. Owner/operator Norm Daburger planned to start up the chairlift on Sunday in hopes of slightly warmer temperatures for skiers and lift machinery as well.

Lisa Daburger, Norm's wife, said the conditions equal those at last season's opening.

The short lift lineups and convenience of the hill, 20 kilometres from town, help bring skiers back, but there's more. They also return for the camaraderie, shorter runs well-suited for learning, and a slower, more relaxed pace than what is generally encountered at large ski resorts.

The late Max Daburger, a Kamloops construction contractor of Bavarian extraction, built the operation in the early '70s as a second occupation. It soon became his main job, said Elizabeth, his wife. She continues to volunteer on the mountain.

How does a family-run operation continue for so long?

"You find a happy medium," she said. "You want to be profitable, but at the same time, you don't want to make it impossible for people to come out." Some years, there was no profit, she noted.

"As far as the many years, it was a lot of work, but I think the lifestyle makes up for it - a love of the outdoors and a love of running a recreational business. You know people are having a good time."

"We like to think it's good management," Norm added. "Keep the expenses down and offer the best experience you can."

Outfitted with a neoprene face mask for protection against the cold, Wakefield had some simple advice for others - "Dress warm, dress warm and wear windbreaking clothes.

"To kids especially, wear some face protection because it hits 'em really fast."

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