Eye on KELOLAND: Lifting Great Bear forward

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Changes could be coming soon to a popular skiing hill in the region.

Great Bear Ski Valley is lobbying for a brand new ski lift to replace an aging structure that’s been at the park since the early 1980s.

Whether you’re new to the slopes or a seasoned vet, Great Bear provides ample opportunity for anyone hoping to ski, snowboard or go tubing.

“Been skiing for a few years myself. I actually didn’t start until I was a bit older,” Robert Dobbs said.

Robert Dobbs is from Hartford. He picked up the hobby recently and hasn’t looked back. Dobbs isn’t alone when it comes to having increased interest in what the Sioux Falls city park has to offer. He’s heard about the potential for replacing this ski lift and is all for it.

“On a Friday and Saturday out here, it can get quite busy. So it’d be nice to keep people moving,” Dobbs said.

“Some of the modern ones are a little more convenient, especially for newer skiers. They slow down at the bottom. They slow down at the top,” Dobbs said.

“A 40-year-old lift, it still works fine but it’s kind of like a 40-year-old fire truck. It’s seen its day and we’re really looking forward to hopefully getting a new one here in the next couple of years,” Grider said.

Dan Grider is the General Manager at Great Bear. He says there are only a handful of lifts like this in the country anymore and the company that made this one no longer exists.

“When we need a new control panel or bearings, basically we have to custom make those,” Grider said.

$800,000 has already been approved for a new ski lift. Mayor Paul TenHaken is proposing another $800,000 but that needs approval from the City Council.

Great Bear Management Company would have to come up with an additional $3-400,000 on its own.

“If the council approves the project, it will probably go out for bid in late summer, early fall. We’ll see who responds to it and hopefully by October 2021 we’d have a new lift in,” Grider said.

“Very thankful. Very blessed to have it out here in the winter,” Kolda said.

Jason Kolda of Sioux Falls says Great Bear provides a great service to the area and the park’s attendance numbers show it’s in demand.

“Yeah they almost got too popular. Some of the days, especially on Friday evenings and weekends it gets a little packed and things get slowed down at the bottom,” Kolda said.

A modern lift could increase efficiency.

“This new lift would be hydraulically tensioned instead of having a counterweight like we have now. So there would be more room at the bottom to stack people and also to load people. Then we’ll re-engineer the unload so it’s not quite as steep and a little bit more convenient for everybody,” Grider said.

The new structure would also be built in a different location.

“We’re going to move it a little bit. We’re going to reorientate it a little bit to the west and then we’re actually going to move the load area to the south about 30 feet,” Grider said.

The changes would be a big upgrade for traffic on the hill. Grider says there isn’t another ski area within three hours of here and investing in this park’s future makes sense. A new ski lift is the No. 1 item on Great Bear’s master plan.

After that, Grider says he wants to look into expanding the park’s terrain, chalet and possibly adding an ice rink down the road.

“Great Bear is part of the fabric of our city here. When you look at winter outdoor opportunities, there’s a couple ice rinks and us,” Grider said.

From outdoor exercise to memories made with loved ones, Grider thinks Great Bear means a lot to the community.

“I learned how to ski here in the mid-70s. I passed it on to my kids,” Grider said.

He hopes it can provide the same lift to others.

Great Bear’s new lift comes up again at the City Council on March 3.

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