Downhill enthusiasts were out of the starting gate early as Castle Mountain Resort opened its doors this past weekend.
The Huckleberry chair was operating Nov. 27 to 29 as part of the resort’s preview weekend. The opening marks the earliest that powder lovers have been able to visit the ski hill in over 10 years.
With lockdowns and business closures an all-too-common aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic, the resort’s early opening is a welcomed positive achieved through co-operation between health officials and the Canada West Skiers Association.
“It’s difficult to say there’s a bright spot in the middle of a terrible thing like a pandemic,” says Cole Fawcett, Castle Mountain Resort’s sales and marketing manager. “But in the ski industry, one of the bright spots of this whole thing is that the industry is closer than it’s ever been.”
To ensure visitor safety at ski hills, individual resorts within the Association collaborated and received input from provincial health agencies to form a set of rules and guidelines for the 2020-2021 season.
The result, continues Cole, is not only that safety measures will be consistent for ski resorts across Alberta and British Columbia but also the unity within the industry itself.
“It’s been so heartwarming and wonderful that we’ve been working side by side with some resorts who we would consider to be some of our largest competitors,” he says.
Safety measures at the hill essentially follow the public health recommendations for people to practise increased sanitization, physical distancing and wearing face coverings.
Face coverings are required at Castle Mountain when purchasing tickets, waiting in lift lines and riding the lift. Face coverings are also mandatory in outdoor areas where people may be gathering and while indoors.
Visitors’ face coverings must be a solid piece of multi-layer fabric with a snug fit that fully covers the nose and mouth. Children five and under are the only exception to this requirement, though the ski hill also recommends they wear face coverings.
Tickets and rentals
For the 2020-21 season, no multi-day tickets are available. Only single-day tickets are offered, which can be purchased at www.skicastle.ca/tickets and on-site at the outdoor ticketing windows.
The guest services area will be open only for people needing a season pass printed or replaced, as well as corporate ticket pickups, direct-to-lift upgrades and administration office inquiries.
Currently, the ski hill does not anticipate needing to limit the number of daily ticket sales, though the number of guests will be monitored. Should public health restrictions increase in the future to limit visitors to the hill, season pass holders will have priority access.Rentals are still available through the Alpenland location at the resort.
Visitors are encouraged to fill out their rental information before going to the hill online at https://bit.ly/RentAlpenland. Rentals can also be completed in person. Staff are available to help over the phone at 403-627-5389.
Indoor spaces will be operating at reduced capacity to ensure physical distancing can be maintained. A dedicated entrance and exit has been established in the lodge to help manage the flow of visitors. No foot traffic will be permitted into the lodge through the snow school entrance.
A valid season pass or day ticket is required to access the upstairs portion of the lodge. Bags, boots and other personal items cannot be left in the day lodge. Visitors are asked to store their items and change into their ski or snowboard boots in their vehicles.
The downstairs area of the lodge is reserved for Castle Mountain staff only. Additional weatherproof shelters have been set up outside for guests wishing to warm up and enjoy their own lunch.
Simplified food and drink options will be offered at the cafeteria and T-Bar Pub in order to balance health guidelines with service speed and guest needs.
For the safety of visitors and staff, it’s asked that all visits to the lodge be less than 30 minutes. Guests using the outdoor eating areas are also asked to be aware of time so others can use the space.
Additional sanitizing measures are in place to clean high-touch areas both during operations and after hours. Hand-sanitizing stations will be added to several base area locations.
Lifts, snow school and cat skiing
Cohorts and families are asked to ride the lift together. Single or double riders will not be forced to ride with anyone outside their cohort. Lift queue configurations will also be slightly different to facilitate physical distancing.
While most snow school programs will still be available, supervised lunches and childcare services will not be provided this season unless specifically offered through a program, such as Little Castle Club.
Private family lessons have also been added as a program option.
Castle’s Powder Stagecoach cat-skiing operation is also continuing this season with minor adjustments.
Group sizes have been reduced to one group of up to 12 guests each day. As a result, cat skiing is now being offered five days per week.
Staff will no longer sit in the passenger cabin to facilitate guest comfort. Face coverings are mandatory inside the stagecoach, with all guests receiving a complimentary two-layer neck tube.
The stagecoach and avalanche equipment will be sanitized at the end of each day.
The staff at Castle Mountain are excited about bringing skiers and snowboarders world-class runs in an enjoyable, safe experience.
While business profitability is important, Cole says the season’s measure of success is going to be much different than years past.
“The main measurement of success is going to be: did people enjoy themselves, did they do it safely, were our staff safe, [and] did they enjoy themselves as much as possible given the circumstances,” he says.
Learning through the experience, he adds, is also an opportunity for the resort to improve operations.
“We hope that we take some of the practices that we’ve implemented that maybe actually enhance the experience of our guests and continue them on an ongoing basis.”
Additional information is available on the resort’s website, www.skicastle.ca. A special page dedicated to Covid-19 measures will be updated as needed at www.skicastle.ca/covid19. Visitors are also encouraged to call 403-627-5101.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze