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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

file photo
Maskwacis RCMP investigate pedestrian fatality

Collision on Highway 2A causing fatality still under investigation.

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read