Snow isn’t quite in the southern Alberta forecast yet but that hasn’t stopped ski shops, resorts and families from getting ready for the approaching season.
“As everyone’s seen in the previous year, things are really hard to get right now, so it’s really important to get on things early,” said Joe Molina, marketing and web operations manager at Alpenland in Lethbridge.
Last season saw an increase in people looking to try skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing as a way to get outside during the pandemic. This led to gear shortages across the country, something Alpenland is trying to avoid this year.
Molina said they started ordering winter gear and apparel at the start of summer or even earlier. They’ve already started reordering products as people are already starting to shop.
“The industry is really starting to feel the shortages on product, and it was really vital for us to order early,” said Molina. “So even with the reorders, we’re hoping that we’re able to stock up enough for the coming season, but it’s going to be hard to get stuff even as we get closer to December.”
Like most industries, Molina said the ski industry isn’t safe from manufacturing shortages and sourcing material — specifically alloys, like aluminum used to make ski poles.
“We’ve doubled down on them to make sure we have enough equipment that we can sell.”
As soon as Alpenland opened on Saturday morning, families were inside getting ski boots fit.
Brayden and Thomas Baird are young brothers who say they’ve been skiing since they could walk.
They like being daredevils, the thrill and the adrenaline that comes with hitting the slopes.
Last year, both noticed more people on the hill. They were happy to see people out trying the sport they love but it did come with a downside.
“It was nice, but at the same time, the lift lines were a lot longer,” said Brayden.
Long lines are to be expected with record turnout, something Castle Mountain Resort saw.
“Last year was exceptionally busy,” said sales and marketing manager Cole Fawcett. “It actually ended up being the busiest season in Castle Mountain Resorts history.”
The resort took on a number of capital projects over the summer, spending almost $1.5 million.
Most was spent on snow-making improvements and adding 1.1 kilometres of snow-making infrastructure to the mountain.
Fawcett said this will help them have more predictable conditions, stay open longer and hopefully, open earlier than their tentative date of Dec. 3.
“Things look like they’re going to be busy, but our expectations are in check.”
If you plan on visiting Castle Mountain Resort, some things will look similar to last year. There will again be a limited number of day passes available to limit capacity.
“That was new for us last year, and it really worked well and kind of kept things to a dull roar on any given day,” said Fawcett. “I think that’s important, pandemic or not, for the guest experience.”
Still, it’s a move Fawcett never saw coming.
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“Three years ago in the industry had you said, ‘Hey, a couple years from now, you’re going to be limiting the number of season passes you sell,’ most of us would have told you to go fly a kite. That just wasn’t something that we would have foreseen as an issue.”
Castle Mountain Resort will be taking part in Alberta’s Restriction Exemption Program. To use the indoor dining spaces, customers must provide proof of full vaccination, a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen, rapid PCR or lab-based PCR test or proof of medical exemption. Masks will also be required indoors when not eating or drinking.
“We’re shifting in the lineups and the base area away from a mask mandate to a mask recommendation,” said Fawcett.
So if you’re looking to get out and hit the slopes this season, those in the industry say there’s no time like the present to start getting ready.
“Despite the warm weather, it’s good to get on this stuff early with the best selection that we have for the season,” said Molina.
“It sucks to come in and get disappointed when you’re halfway through the season and you find out there are no cross-country skis again. That’s a bummer.”