Ski program on slippery slope due to hesitation over COVID-19 protocols

·3 min read
Havey Brodkin owns Snowhawks Ottawa, which has been operating since 1988. He worries his business could go into the red as two school boards aren't comfortable with his COVID-19 safety protocols. (Buntola Nou/CBC - image credit)
Havey Brodkin owns Snowhawks Ottawa, which has been operating since 1988. He worries his business could go into the red as two school boards aren't comfortable with his COVID-19 safety protocols. (Buntola Nou/CBC - image credit)

An Ottawa small business owner is worried about making ends meet as his popular after-school downhill ski program may be cancelled for a second year in a row because two school boards aren't comfortable with his COVID-19 protocols.

The ski and snowboard school run by Snowhawks Ottawa has operated for more than 30 years with a pickup program at a growing number of Ottawa-area schools since 2002.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a cancellation last winter, but owner Harvey Brodkin hoped a stringent safety plan could get students back on the slopes this year.

But neither the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) nor the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) has signed off on Brodkin's COVID-19 safety protocols.

The protocols include fewer students on each bus, requiring masks at all times — except when eating, drinking or free skiing — and requiring all eligible students, instructors and volunteers to be fully vaccinated.

"Different things run through my mind and different things run through my heart. I mean, it's crushing. I feel bad. I miss a lot of the kids," he said.

"We felt we were ready. ... But you know, that's my heart talking. I feel bad about it. My head is telling me, that's a fair decision [by the school boards]. I'm a parent, too. We have a lot of kids in elementary schools who are not yet vaccinated."

Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada
Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada

Door not completely closed

In a statement to CBC, the OCDSB says it shared its health and safety protocols with Snowhawks, and it's up to the company how it chooses to proceed.

"We are open to continuing to discuss alternatives that work within our health and safety measures," the statement read.

The Catholic board says Ottawa Public Health has urged it to limit mixing cohorts, which can be difficult on a ski club's buses.

"We have said no for now, but should the situation change and we receive new direction from OPH and/or the province, we may offer this club in the future," a board spokesperson said in an email.

If in January, we come back to school and the vaccinations have advanced at a good pace and people feel that in February a program can be done safely, we'll do it. - Harvey Brodkin, Snowhawks Ottawa owner

Erik van der Torre's three sons have all gone downhill skiing with the program. He understands the boards' positions, but said he felt comfortable with Broadkin's protocols and believes kids are already mixing cohorts through other activities outside the classroom.

"To say, point blank, that this program can't run while all these other extra-curricular activities are running, seems a little odd to me," said van der Torre.

WATCH | Parent disappointed with potential cancellation of Snowhawks Ottawa ski program

Carrie Desormeaux also said she was disappointed, but not surprised. After her one son enjoyed the program so much, she hoped her other son could take part this year.

"I was really looking forward to a little bit of normalcy. It's been almost 22, 23 months of unusual life activity where kids are having to be more than just kids," said Desormeaux.

Hit to revenue

The Snowhawks' school runs two four-week after-school programs through 26 Ottawa-area schools where kids are picked up after class and head to the slopes.

The program makes up between 50 and 65 per cent of his annual revenue. With the program potentially cancelled for a second consecutive year, Brodkin says he will have to spread overhead costs across other programs he offers — or float them himself — and he expects to barely break even.

But he still hopes to salvage the season, either by working with the school boards or arranging an alternative — such as having parents drop kids off at a specific location after school.

"If in January, we come back to school and the vaccinations have advanced at a good pace, and people feel that in February a program can be done safely, we'll do it."

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