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Quebec ski hills grapple with new COVID-19 red zone restrictions

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WATCH: Quebec ski hills grapple with new COVID-19 red zone restrictions – Dec 19, 2020

New coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the Laurentians mean, though ski hills are still open, the impact on the bottom line of ski operators could be huge, according to one owner.

“The goal this year is to break even,” explained Louis-Philippe Hébert, CEO of Mont Saint-Sauveur.

The new rules didn’t dissuade some people, many of them Montrealers, from showing up on Saturday, the first weekend after the region was designated a COVID-19 red zone by the provincial government.

Read more: Quebec reports over 2,000 new COVID-19 infections, 44 deaths as hospitals ask public to avoid ERs

“We were definitely expecting fewer people,” said Allison Hoppenagin, as she stood in line for a ski lift with members of her family. “I thought there’d be nobody here. Much more crowded than I thought.”

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In fact, demand for season tickets is up over last year, according to Hébert, who added sales were 20 per cent higher at the beginning of the second wave.

“There are no other winter activities going on, and people wanna get out, he explained.

Still, he said profits will likely be lower.

“Season passes don’t cover your whole manpower for a year,” he said.

Hébert explained that season ticket sales account for roughly half of the season’s revenue, and with the new restrictions to control the number people gathering, they have stopped selling day passes.

“So half of your business is going down,” he said.

Also, new COVID-19 red zone rules mean their boutique is closed and food services have been reduced to prevent people from gathering indoors.

Hébert is predicting that business in the winter season could be similar to, or worse than, their summer figures.

“The winter is a bit more of a challenge,” he noted. “It’s much more expensive. You have to make the snow, groom the snow, there’s the electricity for the lifts.”

They’ve had to hire extra staff to enforce pandemic health regulations, he added.

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He refused to speculate, however, on how much they’ll lose this year, saying it’s still too soon to know since the busiest days usually start after Christmas. Hébert said he and his team will decide after the weekend if, and when, they’ll resume selling day passes.

Read more: Quebec reports over 2,000 new COVID-19 infections, 44 deaths as hospitals ask public to avoid ERs

For now, people already with day or season passes say they plan to take advantage of every opportunity to ski.

“We’re not gonna be sitting around at home all winter,” Mitchell Steinberg said on a lunch break with his family.

Skier after skier expressed their relief that the ski hills have remained open, saying it’s something they need.

“Honestly it feels great to us to ski,” said Hoppenagin. “It feels like it’s a little normal at least.”

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