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Skiing or snowboarding near Toronto this winter season? Here's what you can expect

At Horseshoe Resort near Barrie, Ont., general manager Jonathan Reid said the key to opening so early is being ready to take advantage of snowmaking opportunities.   (Submitted by Sarah Tyler - image credit)
At Horseshoe Resort near Barrie, Ont., general manager Jonathan Reid said the key to opening so early is being ready to take advantage of snowmaking opportunities. (Submitted by Sarah Tyler - image credit)

Ski resorts north of Toronto are working hard to prepare for the holiday boom, as skiers and snowboarders gear up to hit the slopes this winter season.

The lifts at some major hills will be up and running this weekend, with Blue Mountain Resorts in Collingwood opening some runs Thursday and Horseshoe Resort near Barrie having opened last Friday. While Dagmar Ski Resort in Uxbridge and Barrie's Snow Valley Ski Resort are aiming to open on Dec. 16.

At Horseshoe, general manager Jonathan Reid says the key to opening early is being ready to take advantage of opportunities to make snow.

"The trick is to be able to fire up quickly, as soon as those temperatures drop," he said.

"Toward the end of November and then all through December and January, we have snowmaking teams on the ready at all times."

At Blue Mountain, Horseshoe, Snow Valley and Dagmar, opening doesn't mean every run will be open to skiers. When every run can be open depends largely on mother nature providing cold temperatures that allow for lots of snowmaking.

Reid said historically, people tend to stay closer to home when the economy is facing tough times. Meaning they may opt for a trip up the highway instead of a more expensive flight elsewhere for a trip.
Reid said historically, people tend to stay closer to home when the economy is facing tough times. Meaning they may opt for a trip up the highway instead of a more expensive flight elsewhere for a trip.

Roughly 355,000 people took up skiing or snowboarding in Canada in 2021-2022, according to the Canadian Ski Council. (Submitted by Sarah Tyler)

Snow Valley says it's hard to put a date on when it will be open across the hill. Blue Mountain, Horseshoe and Dagmar hope it'll be possible for the holidays — but it's all dependent on something no one can control.

"We went to the moon more than 50 years ago but still can't forecast the next day with 100 per cent accuracy," Dagmar COO Jason Woods told CBC Toronto.

Growing pre-season sales

Reid said there's always risk when opening early in the season. But despite some warmer weather in the forecast, there are windows of opportunity to make snow that bode well for a fully open resort for the holiday season.

He says it's shaping up to be a good year with growing pre-season sales.

"I think post-pandemic we're seeing people that are sticking with outdoor sports," he said.

According to the Canadian Ski Council, 355,000 people took up skiing or snowboarding in 2021-2022.

He added that historically, people tend to stay closer to home when the economy is facing tough times, meaning they may opt for a road trip instead of an expensive out-of-country vacation.

Reid says new Canadians are also a large part of Horseshoe's business, something it has in common with Blue Mountain, according to its manager of public relations Tara Lovell.

Pinchbeck estimates the industry likely lost around 35 per cent of its revenue over the first two years of COVID
Pinchbeck estimates the industry likely lost around 35 per cent of its revenue over the first two years of COVID

At Blue Mountain, lift tickets will now use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which means people will go through gates that validate their tickets instead of stopping to have them manually scanned.  (Submitted by Tara Lovell)

She says they're excited to see new people pick up skiing or snowboarding.

"But we also know that asking someone to go out and learn how to ski and snowboard on a full day at Blue Mountain is a lot," she said.

New lift ticket tech, runs and zipline coming to hills

Blue Mountain has a new package that lets people try skiing while getting access to other winter activities, like tubing or skating.

The resort is also introducing some new technology to get people up the hill. Lift tickets will now use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which means people will go through gates that validate their tickets instead of stopping to have them manually scanned.

Lovell said the hope is that the new technology will make things more efficient at the lift line.

At Dagmar Ski Resort, Woods said there have been some significant changes at the hill. He says they've changed the terrain of almost a third of the hill, including a new run that lets kids watch skiers and boarders go through the terrain park.

"I think that whoever has come out in the past is going to be quite happy with our changes, and they'll be delightfully surprised that what they see," Woods said.

Snow Valley also has some new features in the works. The resort is currently constructing an approximately 425-metre long zipline that takes guests around 20 metres up in the air.

The hope is to have it ready during the holiday break, said John Ball, the resort's general manager.

He says the resort wanted to bring in a new feature that could run all year long. During the winter months, zipliners will fly over people tubing below.

"The experience is going to be fantastic, especially if you're a zipline aficionado," he said.