FILE – Gondolas at Lake Louise ski resort in Lake Louise, Alta., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

FILE – Gondolas at Lake Louise ski resort in Lake Louise, Alta., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Canadian ski resorts wrestle with pandemic-vs.-profit dilemma as COVID-19 persists

Few are actually restricting the total number of skiers they allow on the hill

Canadian ski resort operators planning for a season that begins in about two months are being forced to balance profits with protecting the health of their guests in view of a COVID-19 pandemic that shows few signs of ending.

Although medical experts agree there’s little chance of infection while flying through the powder on a steep double-black-diamond ski run, they say the risk increases dramatically when riding a packed gondola to the top of the hill or enjoying an apres ski cocktail in a jammed resort bar.

Resorts say skiers and snowboarders will have to wear masks on lifts and gondolas and when indoors and social distancing will be encouraged by removing tables and chairs in bars and restaurants. They are vowing more frequent cleaning and sanitizing.

But few are actually restricting the total number of skiers they allow on the hill, a prospect that worries Dr. Stephen Freedman, a child health researcher and professor in the department of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

“The ski hills have a responsibility to control the number of people that are on the hill and that number cannot be as high as it was pre-COVID,” he warned.

Gondola loading is particularly tricky for Sunshine Village ski resort in Banff National Park, where the only way for guests to get from the parking lot to the main ski area is by taking a 17-minute ride in an eight-person gondola car.

“As the gondola is our main lifeline, when it is busy we will be loading it to capacity,” said spokeswoman Kendra Scurfield in an interview.

“We tried limiting capacity in the spring prior to being closed for COVID and we found the lineup was more of a hazard. People weren’t social distancing in line, it backed onto to the road, it just became more dangerous than loading people up.”

Sunshine also won’t limit overall skier numbers, she said, but aims to reduce crowding by offering an afternoons-only season pass for the first time this year to encourage people to arrive later in the day. It’s also erecting two large tents and opening a little used building to allow guests to warm up without entering its common areas.

At Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C., hiking, biking and sightseeing guests were able to load the eight-man gondola from the base lodge to the top of the mountain at capacity during the summer if they had appropriate face masks, said Matt Mosteller, spokesman for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.

It hasn’t been decided if that will also be allowed this winter, he said, adding that operator Resorts of the Canadian Rockies is still working on the fine details of COVID-19 rules for its six resorts in B.C., Alberta and Quebec.

Plans could change, he said, but the company so far is not intending to restrict the overall number of skiers at its resorts.

Meanwhile, at destination resort Whistler Blackcomb, 120 kilometres north of Vancouver, no formal limits have been placed on the number of guests allowed on the hill but the expectation is that numbers – which can reach 35,000 people on busy days – will be 10 to 20 per cent lower, said spokesman Marc Riddell.

Passholders will be given preference to reserve a lift ticket and daily tickets will be available online only if there’s sufficient capacity. Staff will restrict the number of guests on lifts and gondolas so that unrelated parties have sufficient social distancing, Riddell said.

The lockdowns last March eliminated as much as 25 per cent of the season for some mountain resorts, said Christopher Nicolson, CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, which represents 92 ski hills west of the Manitoba-Ontario border.

Limits on international travel pose a major challenge because 10 to 30 per cent of skiing guests are from outside of Canada, he said. On the other hand, Canadians will find it harder to travel outside the country this winter, so that could result in more domestic ski visits.

Canadians are able to take lessons from the mixed 2020 ski season in Australia which is just wrapping up now.

In an email, Colin Hackworth, CEO of the Australian Ski Areas Association, said the ski industry in that country went into the season in June vowing to present a simplified and comprehensive COVID-19 operating plan.

“In Australia, the resorts worked to a 50-per-cent-of-normal capacity constraint, and limited capacity by way of selling/distributing online passes only,” he said.

There were setbacks, Hackworth said, including COVID-19 outbreaks that resulted in bans on travel from Melbourne to ski resorts in Victoria state and resulting in the closure of two ski resorts after only a few days.

He added the 2020 season was “probably the worst Australian snow season on record,” which meant some resorts were forced to close earlier than usual.

Dr. Freedman said he thinks it will be difficult for Canadian ski hills to maintain proper cleansing and social distancing this year and he’s not happy about plans to pack eight people in a gondola.

But he knows of at least one skier who will be hitting the slopes anyway.

“I’m an avid skier, I intend to be skiing this winter. But I also intend to do it wisely and to use precautions.”

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusSkiing and Snowboarding

Just Posted

Mural artist Paul Archer will soon begin work on a piece on the rear of a building at 100 Burnside Road West. (Gorge Tillicum Community Association)
Back of Burnside building in Saanich to feature mural of hope and positivity

Artist Paul Archer says subject will inspire memories, depict children’s future, sunshine, flowers

Victoria Truth Centre and Long-term Inmates Now in the Community (L.I.N.C.) Society are hoping to replicate in Langford the format used on Emma’s Farm in Mission, pictured here. (Patrick Penner/Black Press Media)
Victoria Truth Centre hopes to grow transformative justice in Langford

Purchase proposal would see offenders, survivors and families work on organic vegetable farm

Tyson Muzzillo, regional manager of BC Cannabis Store, welcomes shoppers to their Uptown location, opening on June 16. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Government-run cannabis store opening at Saanich’s Uptown

BC Cannabis Store the first for government in Greater Victoria, 27th in province

The stretch of trail north of Royal Bay Secondary connecting to Painters Trail at Murray’s Pond will be closed temporarily this week for invasive species removal. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood trail behind Royal Bay Secondary temporarily closed for invasive species removal

Cloure in effect from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Friday this week

Proposed design for the Topaz Park bike and skate park elements. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria requesting feedback on Topaz Park redesign

Public input now being taken for proposed skate, bike park ideas

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Cowichan Tribes man Adrian Sylvester is worried that he was targetted by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Tribes man worried he was target of trailer hitch

Adrian Sylvester says no one has reported a missing hitch after one nearly hit him

Graeme Roberts, who was mayor of Nanaimo from 1984-86, died this month at age 89. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Community Archives)
City of Nanaimo flags at half-mast as former mayor Graeme Roberts dies at 89

‘Giant-killer’ beat out Frank Ney in mayoral election in 1984

Most Read