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‘We need a break’: Big White Ski Resort hoping spring break offers financial boost

Click to play video 'Big White COVID Slump' Big White COVID Slump
Many Okanagan residents have been taking advantage of fewer people on ski hills due to COVID-19, but the absence of out-of-town visitors is hurting ski resorts. as Klaudia Van Emmerik reports, at Big White near Kelowna, officials are banking on the upcoming spring break to boost this season's bottom line – Feb 18, 2021

There’s no shortage of snow at Big White Ski Resort, but the same can’t be said for the number of skiers and boarders enjoying the popular mountain near Kelowna.

Like all ski resorts in B.C. and across Canada, Big White has been hard hit by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Every resort is feeling the same pain,” said Big White’s senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingall.

“It’s a financial pain for sure. It’s hard for everyone.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Big White Ski Resort pegs financial losses in millions due to pandemic measures

With public health orders and travel restrictions in place, thousands of would-be-visitors are being kept away.

Family Day long weekend, for instance, is typically one of the resort’s busiest times of the year. But this winter, there was a big drop in visitors.

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“Last year was the busiest four days in our history,” said Ballingall. “For example, on the Sunday of Family Day, we did just over 12,000 people skiing on the mountain.

“This year, we just topped out at 3,000 people, so we’re missing 9,000 people out of the mix.”

Click to play video 'Pandemic protocols in place at Okanagan ski hills' Pandemic protocols in place at Okanagan ski hills
Pandemic protocols in place at Okanagan ski hills – Dec 17, 2020

While freezing temperatures brought on by a polar vortex during the Family Day long weekend were partly to blame, the significant decrease in visitors has a huge trickle-down effect.

“That’s 9,000 people that aren’t there to buy a pink doughnut, hot chocolate or coffee, go out for dinner, have a cognac in the room, rent a ski instructor, rent equipment, buy some equipment,” said Ballingall. “So it affects the economy massively.”

Read more: Big White Ski Resort closes Gem Lake, Cliff chairlifts because of cold, windy weather

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The unprecedented situation has meant that for the first time ever, Big White has had to solely rely on local support — and Ballingall is hoping that the upcoming spring break in mid-March could provide a much-needed financial boost.

“The cold weather, on top of the pandemic, on top of Family Day, on top of travel restrictions … we need a break,” Ballingall said.

“We’re hoping that spring break will come and that our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie, she’ll do her best to open up British Columbia if it’s right and the science says it’s right, then we will open up.”

Regardless of travel restrictions being lifted or not, the ski resort is preparing to make the best of the situation and is offering incentives for local residents to come and ski and stay at the mountain.

“Locals can get it for 35 per cent off right now,” Ballingall said. “That is unheard of, putting accommodation on sale at spring break.”

Click to play video 'Locals urged to carve out time and visit Okanagan ski hills in wake of holiday travel advisory' Locals urged to carve out time and visit Okanagan ski hills in wake of holiday travel advisory
Locals urged to carve out time and visit Okanagan ski hills in wake of holiday travel advisory – Dec 8, 2020