Toronto considers scrapping key attraction at major park due to climate change
The more than 500-acre Centennial Park is one of Toronto's gems of a green space, known for its ample size and recreational amenities that range from a stadium and a conservatory to a golf course and a go-kart track.
It is also quite notably one of only two city-operated ski and snowboard hills come winter, offering up a far cheaper and nearby option than the resorts farther north that also happens to be the perfect size for beginners to practice their skills before hitting up somewhere more challenging like Blue Mountain.
Given that it was first opened in the late '60s, the park is overdue for a makeover, and the city recently released a long-awaited master plan of what exactly that will entail.
Features such as a new skating trail, playgrounds, skatepark, pathways, gathering spaces, public art and more are now on the way for the Etobicoke grounds, along with better commemoration of Indigenous history through gardens and variousdesign aspects.
But, some changes that were quietly just made to the plan are now suggesting that the city do away with major elements of Centennial — primarily, its ski hill.
"Replacement of ski hill activity" is one of the improvements mentioned in the October 2021 master plan updates, which advise the city to review facilities that are "at the end of their life," with the ski hill named as one example.
"Though Centennial Park and Earl Bales Snow Centres are the only downhill ski and snowboard facilities in the City of Toronto, the infrastructure is at a critical point that a decision needs to be made regarding the future of the ski and snowboard centre at Centennial Park," the new iteration of the plan reads.
"The decline in use of the ski and snowboard centre and the deteriorating infrastructure, coupled with the uncertainty of a changing climate, provide an opportunity to revision the ski hill area."
According to the document, the primary ski lift on the site is no longer functional, and the entire hill was shuttered in 2017 due to faulty snow-making equipment, the proper function of which is integral for any such hill during periods of little snowfall.
It also notes that according to recent city studies, smaller-scale ski hills are becoming progressively less popular, and that changing winter weather is definitely a factor in that.
The idea is to turn the hill and its associated buildings into a more flexible space fit for various uses year-round, something that 71 per cent of respondents to surveys said they support, while only 29 per cent stated that they do not want to ski centre to be removed or relocated.
The hill is one of three focus areas for changes (along with the pond and the heart of the park), with a reimagining that will keep a toboggan area but see the chairlift building and chalet repurposed into something else entirely.
Renovated pathways will make lookouts at the top of the hill more accessible, while a cultural fitness hub, fire pits and the aforementioned skating trail will live at its base. The hill will also be the site of an amphitheatre partway down.
As noted by the Star, contrary to the public input the city solicited for the plan, many residents are not happy about the idea of getting rid of the ski facilities and amalgamating them with those at Earl Bales Park, which is half an hour drive away in North York.
For many, the hill was a more approachable way into what is a notoriously expensive, intimidating sport.
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