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Laurentian Ski Hill is under new management for the upcoming season and beyond. Karen Jones, CEO of Karen Jones Consulting, and her sister Emma Jones have been retained by the Board of Directors to manage the ski hill.
“They were looking for new management and thought that they would like to try a different approach with Emma and me as the point people to not only lead the management of the hill, but drawing on the other skill sets and the resources that we have with our company so that we are able to tackle it as a team approach,” says Karen.
“We can rely on all the other skill sets we have on our team to carry out various functions, which is what we do as a company, non-profit management is one of our core service offerings.”
Karen Jones Consulting is a business-consulting firm that provides non-profit management project support.
“It is really about accessing funding and developing a business plan and working with various partners,” says Karen.
“What this partnership is allowing us to do now is to dedicate full-time resources to the hill but using the same services that we are currently offering with our clients.”
Both Karen and Emma say they believe that Laurentian Ski Hill is a tremendous asset to the community, and they want to see it succeed, not just as a ski hill but as a potential year-round tourist destination.
“We are specialized in the tourism sector across northern Ontario and a lot of our work is heavily concentrated in developing tourism products. This is a huge opportunity to build tourism year-round using all the natural amenities and assets that we have at the hill,” says Karen.
“We saw it as a great opportunity to build upon a great foundation and bring our non-profit management skills as well as our tourism industry knowledge to the hill.”
Emma’s background is in outdoor adventures as she spent 10 years in Victoria, B.C. running an outdoor adventure company. She says she has long-term visions for how to utilize the ski hill.
“We see that mountain biking and the whole cycling industry is a growing trend in tourism and people are looking for those kinds of experiences. By coupling the hill with the trails and all the other things the ski hill can offer in the cycling world there is a ton of potential there, but that is really something at the top of our list,” she says.
“A vision of mine is to bring adventure races to the hill as well and coupling that with running or biking or kayaking and just getting our community partners and organizations together and create those experiences and events. There are even discussions of running kids day camps out of the building where we can offer high-quality programming.”
She says they have been working closely with the Conservation Authority to create some new opportunities.
“I think expanding the culinary, food and beverage offerings could be another thing on our wish list for our long-term vision, but it’s still a little premature for us to say what that would look like,” says Karen.
“However, the Board of Directors are really committed and the community partners are committed to doing whatever they can do to help build this into a four-season tourism destination. The goal is to generate enough revenue to break even and stay sustainable.”
She says making sure they can have a ski season this year for their members and guests is the focus at this point, but once that is assured there are other goals they would like to achieve.
“There are a lot of ideas being bounced around and we’re trying to see what might stick but our first priority is to get the ski hill up and operational. COVID-19 has certainly thrown some curveballs at us in trying to figure that out with last season not actually happening,” she says.
“We’ll have to work with the different user groups and programs and make sure that we are building upon the winter sport that’s already here and from there we really see so many opportunities.”
Karen says that includes bringing more exposure to the snow sports.
“We just had a meeting with one of the user groups who are looking at hosting some races in February that would attract over 130 kids and their families from all over northern Ontario and beyond. That’s a huge tourism driver right there with just one program.”
Emma says maximizing community involvement will be key to the sustainability of the ski hill.
“It’s going to be a driving factor in tourism if we can get everyone on board to collaborate on these long-term vision goals. In my time in Victoria, you had a whale-watching group who would work in tandem with the area hotels, and they found a combined incentive that would benefit them both,” she says.
“Maybe we can offer ski and stay type packages here or include some of the culinary unique to North Bay and tie it into a skiing package. We’ve got a blank slate here where we’ve got ideas that haven’t really been tried before and so we’re looking forward to seeing where we go.”
Karen says another big factor for making the ski hill operational and a full-time destination isn’t just because it is a place for recreation, it’s a place for people to find full-time and part-time work.
“Our outdoor operations manager is still learning himself, he’s becoming a licensed lift mechanic which is a trade, and you need a certification. He started at the ski hill when he was 14 and has worked his way up into doing this role and has found a way to get himself a licensed certification,” she says.
“Even in the rental shop, you need a certain skill set to be able to bind and tune and wax skis. That is a technique you need to have. We have a groomer operator as well and that’s something you would need to learn to be able to operate and drive a heavy piece of machinery down a hill. There are so many pieces that make the hill run and those are all quality jobs that this hill provides for the community.”
Karen adds everything that happens at the ski hill is done through a labour of love.
“It is a non-profit organization. It is run by a volunteer Board of Directors that dedicates a lot of time to keep things going,” she says.
“It’s not an easy task and it takes a lot of knowledge to make things work. They have a passion for seeing kids skiing and that’s what makes them want to see the ski hill sustainable.”
And she adds it will come down to having the right attitude to making this thing work.
“We’ve never run a ski hill before, but we know how to run non-profits, we know how to do adventure programming and recreational programming, we know how to manage staff and we know how to get funding and you put all that together and you have all these transferable skills that set you up for success in whatever you’re going to take on,” says Karen.
“If we didn’t have the right attitude going into this then we would not have been able to even get through the first week. It’s overwhelming, there are lots of challenges and lots of new things you need to learn, but if you have that mindset and you can figure it out or know to ask for help and bring in the right people to support you, then you can make anything possible.”