With the days getting shorter and temperatures dropping, the thoughts of many Canadians will be turning to the start of the winter sports season. Since COVID-19 restrictions will likely limit indoor activities over coming weeks and months, Canadians will be hoping that they can fill some of their free time this winter by getting out on the slopes.
However, this is set to be a winter season unlike any other, and skiers and boarders will have to prepare for some different experiences to what they have been used to as resorts endeavour to implement social distancing measures necessary to stay open amid the pandemic.
Resorts Preparing For Socially-Distanced Season
The good news for winter sports fans is that all of Canada’s main ski hills are planning to open as normal for the entire season, with some resorts in Alberta already up and running. This will be a great relief to skiers and boarders, who were forced to miss a good chunk of last season due to the nationwide lockdown in early March.
Resorts have now had several months since the start of the pandemic to plan for a socially-distanced ski season which would allow them to open while observing local and federal health rules. Most measures put in place will now be normal practice for most Canadians – including maintaining a physical distance from others outside your bubble, wearing a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, and regularly washing your hands.
Some of the new measures are somewhat unfamiliar, however, and may take some getting used to for regular skiers and boarders. In particular, some resorts are requiring pass holders and/or day-skiers to book their days on the hill in advance, in order to manage the number of skiers on the mountain and ensure against overcrowding.
At Whistler Blackcomb, for example, pass holders receive seven ‘priority days’ which they can use to book days on the hill in advance across the whole season. They will then be allowed to book as many ski days as they like, availability depending, a week in advance for each week of the season. Day tickets will only be available online in advance. Other resorts, such as Lake Louise and Sunshine Village in Banff, will not require seasons pass holders to book their ski days in advance, although purchasing day passes online is recommended.
Aside from booking days in advance, the main difference skiers will experience while on the slopes is maintaining social distancing while on lifts. Most resorts are reducing the capacity on gondolas, requiring guests to upload only with their immediate party, or otherwise ensuring appropriate social distancing on lifts. On busy days such as weekends and holidays, this is does have the potential to increase lift lines.
On-Mountain Dining & Apres-Ski Likely To Pose Biggest Challenge
The biggest issue, though, is likely to be with the time spent in-between or after skiing. Resorts are having to grapple with limited capacity in their on-mountain lodges and restaurants, which are often crowded during peak times and on particularly bitter days.
Most resorts are planning to reduce capacity in their lodges and offer more heated outdoor seating, as well as requiring mask-wearing at all times indoors except when eating and drinking. Whistler Blackcomb is preparing to use a same-day booking system for skiers to reserve a slot in the on-mountain dining locations in order to avoid overcrowding.
This will be a concern for skiers and boarders who feel the cold particularly badly, as well as those who like to stop for an unplanned snack or drink. There is also bad news for partygoers, as resort apres-ski and nightlife is likely to look very different to previous seasons, with socially distanced tables, no dancing allowed and early closures.
Local Lockdowns Could Limit Access To Ski Hills
While most resorts are hoping to stay open as usual throughout the season, gaining access to them may be the biggest issue. For example, under the non-essential travel ban in BC, Vancouverites have been told to use local ski hills such as Cypress and Grouse, preventing many Whistler Blackcomb seasons pass holders from getting on the slopes when the resort opens on November 26.
If wider provincial or federal lockdown measures are imposed, this could prevent Canadians from visiting their favourite ski resorts outside of their local area. This would be particularly upsetting for skiers and boarders in Eastern Canada hoping to get to the resorts of the Canadian Rockies this winter. For now, winter sports fans will have to hope that new restrictions get the virus under control in time to enjoy the upcoming season.
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