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'It's a huge part of our life': Mission Ridge Winter Park marks 50th anniversary

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A family business in Fort Qu’Appelle hit a major milestone on Friday, when the Mission Ridge Winter Park opened for its 50th year.

John Smith had no experience in skiing before he founded the park in 1972. Now, it’s part of the Smith family legacy. His son Michael Smith bought the ski resort in 2001.

"It’s most of my life, I’ve been part of it since I was about 12 years old,” Michael told CTV News.

Michael said his dad found the steepest part of the valley that was north facing, so the sun wouldn’t melt the snow in the spring. Before they had snow making machines, the Smiths would haul snow from the nearby Mission Lake.

"Not a lot of kids from Saskatchewan grow up with a ski hill in their backyards.”

“So create a few more skiers in southern Saskatchewan than most other small towns,” co-owner and Michael’s son, Owen Smith told CTV News.

The hill has some famous fans. Three-time Olympic bronze medalist Mark McMorris grew up snow boarding at the winter park. Gold medalist Kurt Oatway first picked up the sport of sit-skiing on the slopes of Mission Ridge.

"I just want to thank Mission Ridge, Regina Alpine Race Team, and my old coach Gord, they all played important roles in getting me going again," Oatway said in an interview with CTV News.

Murray Bedel took home a bronze medal from the 1984 Paralympics. Bedel was encouraged to try a new sport after he lost both of his arms in a farming accident. John invited him to the hill, where he started skiing. Since then, he’s been a ski instructor for 42 years.

"Even though I didn't have arms, it made me feel like a normal being, and it kept me going in those many tough years,” Bedel said.

Bedel has seen the park evolve over the years, watching the T-bar turn into a chair lift, but the students he’s taught make the biggest difference.

"The cool thing about skiing and snow boarding is, it truly is a family sport. You can jump out here and spend actual quality time together,” Anders Svenson, business manager for Mission Ridge explained.

Mission Ridge receives upwards of 40,000 vistors each year.

"It's one of the jewels we have in the valley. It attracts a lot of people so it's good for the business community, especially for the young people, for a lot of them, that is their first job," Mayor of Fort Qu’Appelle Gus Lagacy told CTV News.

"It's been a huge part of our life, of our family's life, there’s very proud moments here,” co-owner Angie Smith explained.

Owen compared it to taking over the family farm, and the winter park may one day be on its fourth generation.

"I got a couple of kids that are young right now,” he said.

“Maybe one day they'll be part [of] this place.”

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