Okanagan ski hills shut down due to bitter cold temperatures

Click to play video: 'Local ski hills close due to bitter cold'
Local ski hills close due to bitter cold
The bitter cold has forced several ski hills across the province including here in the Okanagan to temporarily shut down operations due to safety concerns. And this artic blast follows an already slow start to the ski season – Taya Fast reports – Jan 12, 2024

Businesses that normally thrive during the winter are being impacted by arctic winds and bitterly cold temperatures.

Several ski hills across B.C., including in the Okanagan, were forced to temporarily shut down due to safety concerns.

Apex Mountain Resort near Penticton shut down all operations on Friday. The resort said there will also be no night skiing on Friday or Saturday due to the cold temperatures, while normal day operations are expected to resume on Saturday.

“We still have the Gun Barrel Saloon operating, the bistro, the mountain shop for people that want to do some shopping, the general store is open. So, we do have some of our facilities open but as far as operation goes out on the mountain, is completely closed today,” said Apex Mountain Resort general manager James Shalman.

“It’s just too cool for us to operate safely with our staff and with our guests. Nobody wants to go out in those kinds of conditions, and this is not safe to operate. So, it’s a very easy decision.”

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Click to play video: 'Slow start to season at Apex Mountain'
Slow start to season at Apex Mountain

Temperatures at Apex dropped to -36 C plus wind chill, meaning it felt close to -40 C Friday morning.

Throughout the day, temperatures did warm up but only slightly to around -32 C plus wind chill.

“Once we get above -25 C, then we really find that people aren’t coming out and it’s not safe to operate,” said Shalman.

“Once we get down to -20 C, then that seems to be a more comfortable threshold where people can still layer up, make sure they don’t have exposed skin, and we can operate everything and feel a lot more comfortable doing so.”

Although it is not the first time extremely cold temperatures have forced Apex to close, Shalman says it is very rare.

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“We actually had a very cold, very extreme cold snap last year, and we did close for two days last year, which again is very rare,” said Shalman.

“Prior to that, it might have been four or five years that we’ve been forced to close due to temperature so it’s not a common thing and when it does happen, it seems to happen just for maybe a day.”

Click to play video: 'Dire future predicted for ski hills on B.C.’s South Coast'
Dire future predicted for ski hills on B.C.’s South Coast

Apex is just one of several ski hills across the province that made the decision to either shut down or limit operations due to the bitter cold.

At Silverstar Mountain Resort near Vernon, only the Gondola and Silver Queen were open on Friday due to the bitter cold.

Baldy Mountain Resort near Oliver cancelled all operations for the day.

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Meanwhile, Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna also temporarily shut down lift operations for the day.

“It’s not unusual in Canada, we always get the arctic blasts sometime in January, and we’re certainly prepared for that. But I don’t know if the customers are,” said Big White Ski Resort vice-president Michael J. Ballingall.

“We’re really careful to make sure that all your skin is covered up; we don’t want any exposed skin up there because when you’re skiing and snowboarding, you’re actually moving at 20 to 30 kilometers an hour. You’re conducting your own wind chill, and that’s what we’re really nervous about.”

Aside from health and safety concerns, Big White said they are also monitoring how the cold weather is impacting the gondolas and other equipment.

“With the gondola doors opening and closing and the moisture that’s in the air at -30 C, we want to make sure that they open and close because we don’t want you stuck in the gondola,” said Ballingall.

“As we go through our protocols of opening and closing lifts, it’s cold on the machinery as well. So emergency brakes, all those sorts of things have to be pumped up and manually discharged. Just going through that feasibility of making sure that the lifts are not only safe to operate, but in the course of this temperature, if there was to be a shutdown and you couldn’t get the lifts going, it’s just too cold to evacuate people.”

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The artic blast follows an already slow start to the ski season; however snow conditions have significantly improved across the Okanagan.

At Apex Mountain Resort, recent snowfall has allowed the mountain to open more runs since the start of the season.

“We’ve had fantastic snowfall this past week. In fact, the past five days we’ve had over 60 centimeters of snow. Two days ago, or even yesterday, some of the people that were out riding said it was the best conditions they’ve seen in a couple of years. So, it’s really unfortunate that this cold snap happened right now,” said Shalman.

“I can tell you that when we open, all those conditions are still going to be there and it’s going to be fantastic once we open back up again.”

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Click to play video: 'Impacts of the extreme cold weather in the Okanagan'
Impacts of the extreme cold weather in the Okanagan

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