As the first snow of the season begins to fall at the higher elevations in the Canadian Rockies, mountain resorts are preparing for the upcoming season with more stringent COVID-19 protocols.
Sunshine Village has been closed since early March, and mountain officials said they have been working alongside Alberta Health Services to develop guidelines for a safe reopening.
“We’re definitely excited for the upcoming ski season,” said Sunshine Village communications director Kendra Scurfield.
“Its been a long off-season so our team has had a lot of time to really reflect and dive into what we want and how we can operate safely.”
The mountain resort has a tentative opening date of Nov. 7, with the lodge opening on Nov. 13.
Scurfield said face coverings will be mandatory at Sunshine Village this season, including in lines for lifts as well as in the lodges.
She said the face covering can be a non-medical mask, a face warmer or a buff, and resort staff will be monitoring visitors for compliance.
Dining in the lodge will be limited due to spacing, but Scurfield said there will be heated tents and portable washrooms set up outside to allow for extra space between visitors.
“Things we’re really focused on is increased sanitization, increased disinfection of our primary areas and really putting out messaging and extra seating throughout the resort,” Scurfield said.
With international border closures still in effect, Sunshine Village is anticipating less international travellers this upcoming season.
The resort is offering discounts for visitors from the Prairie provinces to spur more local guests.
Scurfield said the resort is also encouraging those visitors from nearby to start their day on the mountain in the early afternoon, in an attempt to stagger when guests arrive at the gondola.
“We are encouraging people to start their ski day later than they normally would, just to be able to spread out the flow of traffic throughout the resort,” Scurfield said.
“Our actual skiable terrain can accommodate up to 28,000 skiers per day, when right now our buildings and infrastructure can really only accommodate 6,000 skiers per day.
“When people are actually skiing, we’re not worried about it being too close, it’s really the lift lines, the gondola line at the base and in our day lodge.”
Scurfield said Sunshine is also working to recruit more Canadian staff this year due to travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, at Ski Cellar Snowboard in Calgary, a quiet summer is becoming busier as more people are becoming keen to the idea of hitting the slopes this season.
“People were a little unsure about what’s going to happen at the hills,” said Ski Cellar Snowboard general manager Dan Russell. “But now that the hills have all announced that they’ll all be open and running, customers are definitely supporting it and getting behind it and coming in.”
He said the Labour Day long weekend came with customers getting geared up with new skis and winter wear for the season.
According to Russell, the ski and snowboard supply shop has had complications with inventory shipments due to the pandemic.
“What we have here has been slow coming in, and if they want it, they maybe shouldn’t hesitate,” he said. “If they wait a month, it might not be here.”
As for how Russell’s customers feel about getting back on the slopes after a shortened season last year, he said he’s heard people are comfortable.
“Those customers are waiting to finish up what they didn’t get to finish in the spring last year.”