Generations have answered the clang of the bell at Valley Ski Club
Written by: Jeremy Derksen
ALLIANCE, AB – A bell rings through the frosty air. I half doubt my ears but as I pull ski gear out of the van I hear it again — the unmistakable clang of a large bell, the kind you imagine at an old rural schoolhouse.
That’s where this big brass bell originally hung, but for years now it’s been hanging by the Ski School meeting place at Valley Ski Club near Alliance, AB, a little more than a two-hour drive south of Edmonton.
The ring of the bell tells ski club members and those in lessons to begin — and end — their sessions.
There’s something charming and familiar about using the bell – because when school’s out, ski school’s in.
With Valley’s thriving school program, Chris Walker says most of the kids at her school of nearly 250 kids have had a chance to ski.
“Most of the people that ski here would never learn otherwise. It creates a unique little pocket of ski culture in this prairie area.”Penny Vincett
Meeting Penny Vincett, one of the long-time family members involved in the ski club, I ask her how she got involved in the ski hill, and she laughs and says, “I married a Vincett.”
The Vincett family have been club enthusiasts for three generations, with a fourth generation now coming up. Then there are families like the Zingers who can trace their connection even further back – about 70 years.
Valley’s freestyle club was recently revived by Chris Blumhagen, whose grandfather and dad used to work at the hill.
Valley Ski Club has grown over the years, relocating twice before settling in its present site, a kilometre south of Alliance. After a fire burned it down in 1991, the club built a roomy new lodge to replace the old one. But the rope tow and t-bar remain the only lifts — which suits the club, and its mostly young, learning clientele, just fine.
“Most of the people that ski here would never learn otherwise,” says Penny. “It creates a unique little pocket of ski culture in this prairie area.”
Better yet, skiing in a small area amid a close-knit community brings freedom for the kids who can roam around the hill while parents can rest easy knowing they can’t get into too much trouble. In fact, many of Alberta’s ski areas are community-based ‘hills’ run by volunteers like Penny.
Before I know it, my four-year-old decides he wants to give the rope tow a try for himself. So off he goes, while my 10-year-old laps the terrain park, following along behind some of the bigger local kids.
It would seem the hill is full of rites of passage.
“My dad learned to ski here, then we learned to ski in this area and now my kids are skiing down here,” says Jill Price, who teaches the Nancy Greene Level 1 class at Valley.
And, so it would also seem Valley Ski Club is a place where memories are made, and where it’s both affordable and fun to get introduced to a sport for life.
If only that bell could ring anywhere, calling us to congregate and strap on our skis for fun and unforgettable times.