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Southern Alberta ski hills, retailers thrilled with winter sports spike

Click to play video: 'Winter sports spike alongside ski hill popularity, retailers notice surge in demand' Winter sports spike alongside ski hill popularity, retailers notice surge in demand
WATCH ABOVE: COVID-19 has put a halt to many activities over the last year, putting outdoor activities at a premium. Now ski hills and winter sports retailers are noticing the demand and new participants that golf courses saw over the summer. Danica Ferris reports. – Jan 7, 2021

It’s a pandemic-related boom that golf courses experienced over the summer, and now those in the winter sports sector are feeling the impacts of a similar spike.

Ski hills are businesses firmly in the eye of the storm when it comes to the 2020-2021 winter season, and despite preparations, things have been even busier than they could have ever dreamt.

Read more: Skiers and boarders turned away at Castle Mountain Resort as new daily ticket cap instated

“I would say it’s correct to say that the interest in snow sports has exceeded our expectations,” said Cole Fawcett, the sales and marketing manager at Castle Mountain Resort.

“I don’t want to give the impression that we weren’t prepared for it; everything that we were told all summer and fall — from our friends in the southern hemisphere — is that you will be busier than you expect,” he said.

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Fawcett said Castle Mountain’s snow school employees have been busier than ever with lessons. The demand on instructors has been due to a combination of factors: less international employees spending the winter in Canada has meant fewer employees than are usually available, and a there’s been a noticeable uptick in the number of first-time skiers and skiers returning to the hill after many years off.

Less experience on the hill has also meant a clear change in what areas have been most popular with guests on the mountain.

“Castle is very well known for having exceptional advanced and expert-level terrain, and that is predominantly serviced by the Tamarack or ‘red’ chairlift, as all the locals call it,” Fawcett said. “Interestingly, over the Christmas holidays, you wouldn’t find a line up at that chairlift like you normally would.”

Read more: Castle Mountain Resort preparing to open early December with COVID-19 precautions

The increased demand has also been felt on the retail side of things, where finding equipment is becoming more and more difficult.

Joe Molina of Lethbridge’s Alpenland Ski and Cycle said if people are just now thinking about buying a new setup, they might be disappointed with their options.

“It’s a little late in the game,” Molina said. “You’re probably going to have to compromise on colour or specific types of skis, just because things are pretty frisked through right now.”

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Molina said the shop has done massive reorders thanks to high volumes of equipment being sold, and the spike in sales hasn’t just been for skiing and snowboarding.

“Pretty much anything outdoor recreation-related — like all of our categories — are seeing an increase,” he said.

“It’s just hard to find stuff right now. Like, people are trying to find cross-country gear and we just don’t have it. So we’re shipping stuff, people are piecing stuff together from all over the country, basically whatever they can get from wherever.”

Molina said rental equipment has also been at a premium, both at Alpenland’s Lethbridge location, and its Castle Mountain shop.

“Because if you can’t find the equipment to buy, the next option is to rent,” he said. “They want to get out there, so they’re willing to rent and do multi-day rentals. Whole families are coming in and getting cross-country skis, you know, five sets are going out the door at once.”

Read more: COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nakiska Ski Area west of Calgary

He said he thinks this year will have a positive impact on the future of winter sports, with more kids getting introduced.

“Everyone’s getting on skis — any age, even the little tiny ones,” he laughed. “We’re seeing little sets of skis and little snowboards going out. So we’ve got a pretty cool generation of young people that are probably going to start getting into it, which is really neat.”

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