New guidelines put in place by the Saskatchewan government regarding outdoor ski lodges on Friday means ski hills are able to operate at full capacity, as long as COVID-19 measures are in place.
As part of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan, the province had a cap on ski lodges' capacity at 150 people. On Friday, those restrictions were removed and ski lodges began preparing for a late start to their 2020-2021 season.
Mission Ridge Winter Park in Fort Qu'Appelle usually starts its season in early December. Due to lack of snow and the COVID-19 capacity restrictions the opening was delayed until Dec. 26.
Anders Svenson is the business manager at Mission Ridge. He said the previous public health order had prevented the park from opening sooner.
"We're actively amassing our staff and getting the hill prepped and ready to rock and roll because we certainly intend to open soon," Svenson said.
Mission Ridge will be following the COVID-19 protocols set in place by the provincial government. This includes making sure each guest is wearing a mask or face covering, including outdoors and maintains a physical distance of two-metres from others not in their household.
"[There are] lots of changes, it's going to be a very different season than our guests are used to," Svenson said.
He said there are a lot of guidelines in place for the ski hill and he suggested guests look at the guidelines posted on their website before visiting the park.
"We've been given this opportunity to get outside and do something this winter, get some exercise, enjoy the outdoors," Svenson said. "But it's critical that we all do our part to make sure that we can remain open for the entire season."
Guidelines for ski lodges
Some of the current guidelines for ski resorts in the province are as follows:
Guests should arrive dressed appropriately for the weather to minimize the use of indoor spaces.
Guests must wear masks at all times in indoor spaces.
Venues should have signage that states all COVID-19 procedures that are in place.
Guests who are exhibiting signs of illness should be requested to leave.
Guest contact information should be obtained for contact tracing.
Rental equipment should be properly cleaned and sanitized between patron use.
Vehicles in parking lots must be spaced a minimum of two metres apart.
Ski lifts should only be shared with immediate household members.
All staff should go through a health-screening questionnaire before their shift starts.
Optimist Hill opened Friday
Robert Letts, the project chair for Optimist Hill in Saskatoon, said the hill opened for the 2020-2021 season on Friday after the capacity restrictions were lifted.
He said things will look different this year; for example the chalet at the hill not open for guests to warm-up in.
"Be prepared for a few lineups waiting to get your equipment and things that you need and just know that we're not going to be able to offer the same amenities we're able to offer in the past just due to COVID-19," Letts said.
"We're just going to do the best we can with what we have to work with."
He said it wasn't COVID-19 restrictions that delayed the opening. Instead, he said a lack of colder weather prevented the hill from producing snow a couple weeks later than it wanted to.
"But we can't control Mother Nature and we had a lot of preparation work to do for COVID-19," Letts said.
Letts said this isn't the first time the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the skiing season. Earlier this year the hill shut down early and he estimated three to four weeks of operation and revenue were lost in the early days of the pandemic.
He said restrictions being lifted for ski lodges in the province was a good move, because outdoor activity is important for everyone.
"Everybody in the province needs something to go do in the outdoors and that's the most important thing," Letts said, "Get active, get outside."
"Just get outside and have some fresh air and stay healthy."