It was standing room only in the Larch Hills Chalet on Jan. 3 when the now-completed facility was officially opened to the public.
The sounds of excited conversation mingled with the smells of fresh-baked snacks as friends old and new celebrated a crowning achievement of the Larch Hills Nordic Society that was many years and thousands of volunteer hours in the making.
“I think when all of us on this chalet expansion committee started out doing this, our goal was for this to happen, to have everybody be able to gather in this place and be warm and comfortable,” said Suzy Beckner, head of the expansion committee. “It was quite difficult and it was quite a push, but coming up here over the holidays and being able to see people in here… I think we have achieved our goal of everyone being comfortable and happy and for this to be a community gathering place.”
After Neskonlith elder Louis Thomas spoke to the gathered crowd, in both Secwepemc and English, about the importance of maintaining and preserving natural spaces like Larch Hills, members of the expansion committee along with representatives of local government spoke to the extent of the project.
“Salmon Arm always seems to punch well above its weight, when you have a look at the size of the community, the amount of fundraising and volunteer work that goes into putting together an expansion project like this, it is absolutely amazing,” said MLA Greg Kyllo. “This project really is about our community, all of you are 1,000 members strong in Salmon Arm, it’s just such a great tribute to the area.”
Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison echoed Suzy Beckner’s comments on the importance of the facility as a community gathering place.
“One of the really neat things is if you just look around here, two things strike me: one is we have all ages of people here. We have kids that I have taught, we have people who I have taught who have kids, and we have people around my age who are the sage older people who keep things together. And that is what social gatherings are all about, and this facility allows us to do it,” Harrison said.
Like most of the others who spoke during the grand opening, Harrison proclaimed Suzy Beckner’s dedication as instrumental to the success of the expansion.
“I have learned that if you want to get something done, you select a strong, intelligent woman to do it,” he said, before asking the crowd to stand and recognize her tireless work on the project.
During the presentations, long-time club member Jim Beckner took the time to elaborate on just how far the chalet has come since first being built almost 40 years ago.
“Today, we are celebrating not only the completion of the final phase of our chalet, but also the end of a journey,” he said.
The legacy of the chalet began in 1983, and for 22 years it sat amongst the thick trees of the ski area before the first ideas of expansion cropped up in 2005, he said.
Rather than build an entirely new chalet, it was decided to move the original building and expand on what they already had. Soon after relocating to the current site, Pauline Hicks moved onto the property as a full-time caretaker, power was hooked up to the building and running water was next on the list.
Over the years, more hard labour went into the chalet as it was raised so the foundation for a basement could be added. Many small details were also taken care of, such as improvements to the water system, new flooring and shelter for wood supplies, washrooms, a sink for the kitchen and a new wood stove.
With all these amenities in place, in 2013 a new chalet expansion committee was formed to look at a more radical addition: a two-level, 2,400 square-foot expansion. The projected costs were steep, more than $400,000, but it was decided the club would attempt to get it done with no additional fees to members or borrowing of money.
After much time spent planning, fundraising and seeking grants from the provincial government, construction began in the spring of 2017 and continued until the ski season. After a hiatus to regroup over the winter, construction resumed the following spring, with the aim of opening by the beginning of the ski season.
In front of the tightly-packed crowd gathered in the chalet at the grand opening Jan. 3, just in time for the ski season as promised, expansion committee member Duncan Moore was one of many to express heartfelt thanks to local contractors and volunteers for their efforts.
“Let me say when I see the crowd in here it just speaks volumes about why we dreamed of a bigger chalet, and here it is,” Moore said. “I am very proud to be a part of this organization and this community. When I first came up here people talked about the ‘Larch Hills way,’ and I always wondered what that meant. I think what it speaks to is the incredible amount of volunteerism that drives this community and it really is epitomized in what we see in the Larch Hills Nordic Society.”
For now, a temporary banner bearing the names of key donors and volunteers has been placed on the exterior of the chalet, with plans to make it into a permanent, metal-framed plaque.
The first big event scheduled to make use of the new chalet now that it is open will be the Reino Keski-Salmi Loppet, which kicks off Jan. 19.