Hours after announcing they would finally open for skiing for the first time since COVID-19 forced Ontario’s Blue Mountain Resort to shut down in March, crews are busy making final preparations.
On Saturday, skiers and snowboarders will descend the slopes for the first time in nine months amid a coronavirus pandemic, which has seen daily case numbers climb above 2,000 per day in the province.
“People are looking for a way to get outside, to have something to look forward to this winter,” said Tara Lovell, public relations manager for the Collingwood-area ski resort.
Legally, there is nothing preventing residents in lockdown areas from visiting other areas of the province, including ski venues. Ski resorts like Blue Mountain have spent months planning for the return to winter sports.
But with safety and health regulations in mind, the experience for customers won’t be quite the same as in past years.
Skiers can no longer make a last-minute decision to ski and just show up to buy lift tickets. Now, you must reserve a space online first, and there’s no guarantee of getting a ticket.
“We’re prioritizing pass holders and limiting day lift tickets. If you have a pass, you can ski whenever it’s valid,” Lovell said.
In busy holiday periods, Lovell acknowledged there may not be enough room to accommodate day lift sales. The resort will make tickets available based on an analysis of historical data and other information to predict how many skiers are likely to show up on a given day.
Given the new rules, aimed at limiting the number of skiers at a time, perhaps it’s not surprising Blue Mountain sold out of its popular 5×7 ski pass, which allows guests unlimited weekday skiing and late skiing on weekends.
In addition to restricting the number of patrons, Blue Mountain Resort staff warned restaurants in the ski village now require reservations. Skiers won’t be able to walk in to use their restroom facilities as in the past either. But the resort is providing portable washrooms around the property and its main chalet will be open.
Anyone staying in a hotel room in the village was asked to use their own room as much as possible.
“Go back to your room for facilities to warm up, or even to eat meals,” Lovell said in an interview.
Skiers were asked to ride lifts together as families and not travel with those outside their household. And the popular singles line, which normally allows individual skiers to save time by riding with strangers and filling up unused space on lifts, won’t be available this year.
Despite the pandemic, or perhaps because of it, some skiers plan to spend more time on the slopes this year than in the past.
“We are definitely planning to ski … we’re going to spend an entire month here,” Irene Mankovsky told Global News as she and her kids looked around the ski village.
Mankovsky, who lives in Toronto, said she and her husband have no qualms about skiing this winter.
“It’s outdoors, it’s easy to be socially distant, and you’ve got to get outside, right?” Mankovsky said.
Ski resorts like Blue Mountain are hoping their efforts will encourage customers to feel comfortable.
“All we’re asking is that everybody stay safe, try to exercise kindness, and be patient,” Lovell said.