New Brunswick's four ski hills are busy making snow following growing interest in outdoor sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pass sales at Crabbe Mountain near Fredericton have increased 15 per cent over last year.
"General demand with equipment stores is high and people can't keep product on the shelf, so I think there's a big demand for outdoor space, winter activity," said general manager Jordan Cheney.
Skiers can expect some changes to the overall experience, including physical distancing at lift lines and limited lodge access for warming up.
While face coverings will be mandatory at most times, it's nothing new for skiers already accustomed to keeping their faces warm.
"We've all bundled up in the cold and worn goggles and face masks," Cheney said. "So with outdoor stuff, it should be very similar to what people have been used to."
Early end to season
The last ski season came to an early end when the pandemic hit in mid-March.
Crabbe Mountain lost about 15 days of operations after New Brunswick shut down all non-essential business to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Cheney said the ski hill was still operating with picnic tables outdoors at the end.
"We were on track to have a record season, so it was unfortunate that it got cut short," he said. "But we were fortunate in that it was at the tail end of the season."
With uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, ski areas are rolling out refund and credit policies to assure season pass holders in the event of an unexpected shutdown due to the coronavirus.
Mont Farlagne near Edmundston rolled out a guarantee for season pass holders.
"We were on track to have a record season, so it was unfortunate that it got cut short." - Jordan Cheney, Crabbe Mountain
If the Campbellton region moves into the red phase, Sugarloaf Provincial Park will offer prorated refunds based on ski days missed.
Poley Mountain in Sussex will offer a prorated pass that will carry over into next season.
At Crabbe Mountain, pass holders will have the choice between a prorated refund or credit toward next season.
Bubble lifts, lessons
Other New Brunswick ski hills have created similar COVID-19 operational plans, focusing on physical distancing and preventing large gatherings in lines and lodges.
Chairs will be loaded within bubbles, instead of loading four people per chair.
Danielle Gagné, vice-president at Mont Farlagne, said masks will be required at all times, including on lifts. The one exception will be when going down the hill.
"When we have a bubble or a family, we go up like normal," she said.
Gagné said two people from different bubbles can ride the lift together, provided they wear masks and sit at the opposite ends of the quad chair.
At Sugarloaf and Crabbe Mountain, face coverings are recommended but not required while riding the lift. Poley requires them at all times, except when heading downhill.
Ski hills are also reducing some group lessons to bubbles.
Crabbe Mountain is allowing people to pre-purchase lift tickets online to cut back on lines.
Skiers will be able to scan a code on their phones that can be printed outdoors when they arrive.
Reduced lodge access
All four mountains are limiting the amount of space indoors for skiers and snowboarders to get ready and warm up.
"Space will be made available in our lodge or in our buildings for booting up, but we're just asking that folks don't store their equipment," Cheney said.
Crabbe Mountain has purchased a 2,600 square-foot greenhouse with picnic tables for skiers to warm up, since space indoors will be mostly occupied by the ski school and seating for the restaurant.
At Mont Farlagne, Gagné said dining will still be offered at seated tables limited to groups of four people.
With temperatures dipping below freezing, snowmaking is underway as ski hills prepare to open in early December.
Sugarloaf and Crabbe Mountain are both aiming to open for the first full weekend of December.
Poley Mountain and Mont Farlagne plan to open a week later on Dec. 11.