Marble Mountain is a go this January, but with shorter hours and fewer lifts

·3 min read
Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

Marble Mountain has released its plan to operate this winter with fewer hours and fewer lifts amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, although the Marble Villa accommodations will not be opening.

The provincial government-owned ski resort in Steady Brook is eyeing Jan. 7 as its target opening date.

"This is a COVID year, so it's not going to be just like it was in previous years," Tourism Minister Bernard Davis told CBC News Tuesday.

There are a myriad of restrictions in place to accommodate physical distancing and other public health regulations. Masks will be required indoors and out; all skiers and snowboarders must wear a mask while waiting for and riding the chairlift and when they are inside the lodge.

The hill will be closed two days a week — Tuesdays and Wednesdays — instead of one day a week, as it was last season. Night riding and all major events at the hill, as well as its 10-week ski school, are cancelled for the season, although people can book private lessons for their bubbles.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

The resort is also limiting the number of people allowed in the lodge at any one time, capping the lodge's capacity at 375, limiting its hours of operation and not serving alcohol. The hill is also asking people to stay outside when possible and is setting up extra outdoor seating.

Marble won't offer child care this year, and instead will turn its child-care centre into a bar, with additional outdoor seating.

The Black Mariah lift, which hauls skiers and snowboarders up to the runs on the eastern side of the mountain, is out of commission this season, as the resort has said the lift needs a new haul cable. One couldn't be installed prior to this season's opening, according to Davis, which leaves only one lift, the Lightning Express, to take people to the top.

A different approach to ski and stay packages

Marble Villa, the resort's accommodations at the base of the hill, will not operate this season.

"We decided we would support [other accommodations] in the region because of the tough year from an economic standpoint," Davis said.

He said there will be partnerships with different places where people can stay, similar to previous ski-and-stay packages.

Davis noted he is hoping to lure some ski enthusiasts within the from other parts of the Atlantic Bubble.

Search for interested buyer drags on

Earlier this fall, the resort's fate for the upcoming season appeared up in the air before the province confirmed in early October it was working on a plan to open.

The hill shut down on March 13, 2020, as part of a wave of COVID-19-related closures. Marble is offering discounts to last year's season pass holders as well as those who were enrolled in its snow school and missed out on skiing and snowboarding due to that closure

Early bird pricing for season passes went on sale Monday, as did lift ticket packages.

As for the broader future of the ski resort, that remains up in the air.

The provincial government issued a request for proposals (RFP) in June 2018, looking for private operators interested in developing, managing or owning the ski hill.

That process has dragged on, with no potential bidders being named to date. Davis said COVID-19 contributed to some delays, although the RFP had already been out for over two years before the pandemic struck.

Davis said there is potential, but there is no timeline or date when a buyer might be named, or when the RFP process might conclude.

"We have had some interest from several proponents that were interested in looking at different options, using the ski hill and the assets that exist with the ski hill … hopefully in the coming weeks and months, we will hopefully have a clew-up for that process," he said.

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