Thunderhill Ski Area

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Thunderhill Ski Area
Thunderhill Ski Area logo.png
Thunderhill 2.jpg
The JB Construction Lift on the lower-mountain east portion of the hill.
Location RM of Swan River,
Flag of Manitoba.svg  Manitoba,
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada
Nearest city Swan River
Vertical137 m (449 ft) [1]
Top elevation573 m (1,880 ft)
Base elevation436 m (1,430 ft)
Skiable area60 acres (0.2 km2)
Runs22 Ski trail rating symbol-green circle.svg 45% - Easiest
Ski trail rating symbol-blue square.svg 32% - More Difficult
Ski trail rating symbol-black diamond.svg 23% - Most Difficult
Longest run1.2 km (1 mi)
Lift system 2 T-Bar Lifts
Terrain parks 1 Terrain Park
Snowfall 1.4m (4.6ft)/year [2]
Website Ski Thunderhill

Thunderhill Ski Area is a ski area located in the Swan River Valley region of Manitoba. It is approximately 25 kilometers southwest of the town of Swan River. The summit lies exactly on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan boundary. Its 450 ft vertical drop is currently the largest in Manitoba. [3]

The Swan River Valley is located in the western part of the Canadian province of Manitoba. It has no clearly defined boundaries, and although it is close to the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, the immediate area across the border is sometimes considered a part of “the valley” as it is known by locals, as well. It is named after the Swan River, which runs through the center of the region. It is considered a valley because of the highlands that surround it on three sides. The Porcupine Mountains lie to the northwest, the Duck Mountains are in the south, and Thunderhill is in the western part of the region. These features are all a part of the Manitoba Escarpment. Thus the name Swan River Valley is somewhat misleading, as the area is not actually a river valley.

Manitoba Province of Canada

Manitoba is a province at the longitudinal centre of Canada. It is often considered one of the three prairie provinces and is Canada's fifth-most populous province with its estimated 1.369 million people. Manitoba covers 649,950 square kilometres (250,900 sq mi) with a widely varied landscape, stretching from the northern oceanic coastline to the southern border with the United States. The province is bordered by the provinces of Ontario to the east and Saskatchewan to the west, the territories of Nunavut to the north, and Northwest Territories to the northwest, and the U.S. states of North Dakota and Minnesota to the south.

Swan River, Manitoba Town in Manitoba, Canada

Swan River is a town in Manitoba, Canada. It is surrounded by the Rural Municipality of Swan River and in the Swan River Valley. Swan River acts as the hub to the surrounding communities of Minitonas, Benito, Bowsman, Birch River, and the other communities in the valley. As of 2016, Swan River was Manitoba's 16th largest in population, which was 4,014 as of the 2016 Canadian Census according to Statistics Canada, with an additional 2,829 people living in the surrounding rural municipality of Swan River.


Thunderhill, on which the ski area is located, is a feature of the Manitoba Escarpment. The ski area has two sections - upper mountain west and lower mountain east. Each section is served by a T-Bar lift. The ski area's longest runs are about one kilometre, and are also some of the longest in the province. Typically, the area operates each winter from mid-December to mid-March.

Manitoba Escarpment

Manitoba Escarpment is the term used for a range of hills along the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border. In Manitoba, this range is also known as the Western Uplands.


The ski area first opened in 1967 and was run by the Benito Elks club until 1972. [4] The original lift used was a rope tow which also happened to be the longest lift of its kind in the province of Manitoba. In 1977, the Markowsky Lift replaced the original rope tow, greatly increasing the accessibility of the hill. In 1990, the ski area was expanded further down the hill, [5] creating two distinct areas. Upper-mountain west is the original ski area, and lower-mountain east is the newer area. Lower-mountain east was served by a rope-tow at that time. The areas are distinct in that some runs in each area are not accessible from the other area. However, some runs are continuous from upper-mountain-west to lower-mountain east. In 2012, an expanded portion of lower-mountain east was opened to the public, which included the new JB Construction lift to replace the rope tow and service the longer runs.

Benito, Manitoba village in Manitoba, Canada

Benito is an unincorporated rural community in the Municipality of Swan Valley West within the Canadian province of Manitoba that held village status prior to January 1, 2015. The community is situated in the Swan River Valley, 37 kilometres southwest of Swan River, 475 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, and 2 kilometres east of the Saskatchewan border. To the south is Duck Mountain Provincial Park and Forest, to the north is Thunder Hill and further north of Swan River is Porcupine Mountain Provincial Park. Benito is served by PTH 83.

The ski lodge was originally an old country schoolhouse, and has been renovated and expand many times throughout the years. The most recent renovations were completed in 2002, which included new washrooms and a new ski rental room, as well as improvements to the building's exterior.




Lift NameLengthVerticalTypeRide TimeMakeBuild Year
Brandson Express439m54mT-Bar Lift3 Mins Doppelmayr 2016
JB Construction Lift442m55mT-Bar Lift3 mins Doppelmayr 2012

Thunderhill's new T-Bar lifts are the focal points of an expansion project that has been taking place since 2011. They represent major improvements over the hill's former lift systems. The original Markowsky Lift was assembled at Thunderhill in 1977 and served the Upper-Mountain West area. Before that, it was in service at Mark Valley Ski Area (now closed). The aging lift was functional, but it was slow and mechanical problems often arose. The new lift, named the Brandson Express, was purchased from Vista Ridge All Seasons Park in Fort McMurray, Alberta. It was in storage in Roblin for several years, as wet conditions delayed its installation. In 2015, work began replacing the old T-bar, and the new lift was ready for use in the 2016-2017 season.

Fort McMurray Urban service area in Alberta, Canada

Fort McMurray is a population centre, technically classified as an urban service area, in the Regional Municipality (RM) of Wood Buffalo in Alberta, Canada. It is located in northeast Alberta, in the middle of the Athabasca oil sands, surrounded by boreal forest. It has played a significant role in the development of the national petroleum industry. A severe wildfire in May 2016 led to the evacuation of its residents and caused widespread damage.

Alberta Province of Canada

Alberta is a province of Canada. With an estimated population of 4,067,175 as of 2016 census, it is Canada's fourth most populous province and the most populous of Canada's three prairie provinces. Its area is about 660,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi). Alberta and its neighbour Saskatchewan were districts of the Northwest Territories until they were established as provinces on September 1, 1905. The premier is Jason Kenney as of April 30, 2019.

Roblin, Manitoba Place in Manitoba, Canada

Roblin is an unincorporated urban community in the Municipality of Roblin within the Canadian province of Manitoba that held town status prior to January 1, 2015. It is located approximately 400 km northwest of Winnipeg, Manitoba's capital.

Before the most recent expansion project, the Lower-Mountain East area was served by a rope tow. The lift consisted of a large rope that riders simply hung onto as it pulled them up the hill (not to be confused with a handle tow, a similar more popular stye of lift). Some skiers and snowboarders found it difficult to use, as it required arm strength to hang on for the duration of the ride up the hill, and the heavy rope would also drag on the ground in the mid-section of the lift, carving grooves into the snow that were easy to trip over. To help alleviate these problems, the rope tow was split into two segments and riders had to release the rope at a mid station about two-thirds of the way to the top, where they had the option of continuing up the next section, or exiting onto the ski runs. The rope ran very fast, so it was also hard on mitts. Given these problems, the Lower-Mountain East area of the ski hill was under-utilized. The rope tow was removed in 2011 to make way for the JB Construction Lift. The JB Construction Lift was purchased from Snow Valley Ski Club in Edmonton, Alberta. [6] It serves a larger area than the original rope tow and first operated during the 2012-2013 season.

The base of upper-mountain west, prior to replacement of the Markowski Lift Thunderhill 3.jpg
The base of upper-mountain west, prior to replacement of the Markowski Lift

Other Activities


Thunderhill Ski Area is connected to the Swan Valley's regional snowmobile trail system, and the ski lodge is frequently used by snowmobilers as a warm-up and rest stop. The area also has a number of ungroomed cross-country ski trails. In addition, the ski club provides tours and sleigh rides at certain times.


The hill has numerous mountain biking trails, and is used by Tread The Thunder Bike Club. In 2016, the bike club made improvements to the trail systems. There are now six sponsored trails and a large trailhead sign. Thunderhill was the site of the cycling competitions in the 2012 Manitoba Summer Games. The hill also attracts hikers, geocachers, and photographers, who take advantage of the natural setting and views of the Swan Valley.

See also

Duck Mountain Ski Area is a ski area located in Saskatchewan's Duck Mountain Provincial Park approximately 2.5 kilometres from the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. It is 36 km from Kamsack and 116 km from Yorkton. The Duck Mountains, the area where the hill is located, are a feature of the Manitoba Escarpment. Thunderhill Ski Area, 50 km to the north is another ski hill located along the Manitoba Escarpment. The operating season for Duck Mountain Ski Area varies depending on weather and snow conditions, but the hill typically is open from late December to mid-March every year.

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Coordinates: 52°00′57″N101°36′30″W / 52.0157°N 101.6084°W / 52.0157; -101.6084