The long, cold and snowy stretch of weather hanging over Alberta has allowed one ski hill to open very early this year.
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.
“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.
“For us, winter is here.”
Looking at the snow-covered mountains, it’s hard to believe that less than a few weeks ago people were hiking at the hill.
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.
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.”
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.
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