Ski season starts this weekend in Alberta; earliest opening at Mount Norquay in 95 years

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Ski season starts this weekend in Alberta; earliest opening at Mount Norquay in 95 years
WATCH: On Saturday, Mount Norquay in Banff National Park became the first ski hill in the country to open for the season. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, it's the earliest opening in 95 years at Norquay – Oct 24, 2020

The long, cold and snowy stretch of weather hanging over Alberta has allowed one ski hill to open very early this year.

Read more: Winter escapes in Alberta amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Banff’s Mount Norquay kicked off its ski season on Saturday, which makes it the earliest the ski hill has opened in its 95-year history.

The unusual opening date also makes Mount Norquay the first hill in the country to welcome skiers and snowboarders for the season.

The snow just kept coming, and the temperature kept dropping over the last week. The overnight temperatures have been cold enough to make snow on the hill too.

“The amount of snow we have won’t exactly melt immediately, and the manmade snow is a lot [denser] and it tends to stay a lot longer,” said Andre Quenneville, Mount Norquay general manager.
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“So you can imagine a spring day when a chinook runs through, the snow doesn’t disappear overnight. The overnight temperatures are still cool enough that we will be fine to get through the next few weeks.

Opening day at Mount Norquay on Oct. 24, 2020. Global News

Looking at the snow-covered mountains, it’s hard to believe that less than a few weeks ago people were hiking at the hill.

“Oct. 12 was the last day of summer sightseeing and [assisted climbing experience] Via Ferrata, and there was no snow and people were climbing on the mountain. Here we are less than two weeks later, and we are skiing,” said Quenneville.
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COVID-19 brings a few changes to the slopes. Tickets need to be pre-purchased to help gather information for contact tracing and keep tabs on the number of people.

Staff ask a few health questions at the booth by the parking lot, and masks are required in the lodge, in the lift line and on the chairs.

Read more: Winter escapes in Alberta amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Crowds will be monitored on a day-to-day basis.

“We restricted today. But today, it’s because we only have one lift. So as more lifts open and more terrain opens, we feel that people will be able to disperse onto the mountains, and we will be monitoring the use of the buildings,” Quenneville said.

It’s been a wild ride already for ski hill operators with the unusual weather, the pandemic and a drop in international visitors. With so much out of their control, the best they can do is embrace the unexpected — just like the skiers revelling in the sudden switch of seasons.

“No complaints at all. It’s awesome,” said Brody Kessler from Calgary. It’s the earliest I’ve ever skied. It’s actually really good. Not icy at all. It’s great out here.”

Mount Norquay general manager Andre Quennville is seen on opening day, Oct. 24, 2020. Carolyn Kury de Castillo/Global News

Quenneville said he’s optimistic they will not be limited in the skier capacity at the hill this winter but he acknowledges that they will adjust as needed and things may change.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Face masks to be mandatory at Sunshine Village for ski season

The hill is now open with the Cascade Chair and Sundance Carpet operating. As the season progresses, the resort will open its Spirit, Mystic Express and North American chairs and tube park.

The tentative opening dates for some other ski resorts are:

  • Nakiska: Nov. 6
  • Lake Louise: Nov. 6
  • Sunshine: Nov. 8
  • Fernie: Dec. 5
  • Kicking Horse: Dec. 11
  • WinSport: Nov. 27

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