If there’s an upside in the pandemic, it’s that it has reintroduced us more to the outdoors, where we can more safely gather with others.
Ski resorts — now planning for the upcoming season during a pandemic when things could change very quickly — are looking at ways to ensure the outdoors are even more accessible.
“We are the largest destination in Ontario, but the apres-ski culture is a part of the experience,” said Tara Lovell, spokesperson for Blue Mountain Resort. “There are always going to be people who enjoy the social part of the sport.”
The Collingwood-area resort is implementing different rules this year to control traffic to and around the resort. Pass holders will have access to the resort, as will a limited number of single-day users, providing they reserve in advance. Walk-up ticket wickets will be closed this year. It is also expanding outdoor areas where people can eat, drink and rent equipment.
Like Blue, Hardwood Ski and Bike in Oro-Medonte Township is transitioning into the winter season after having implemented controls for the summer biking season. Exactly how that looks will be ironed out next month as the pandemic picture becomes clearer and public health officials provide more guidelines.
“Whatever we do, it is going to be a lot different than any other winter,” said president and general manager Gareth Houben.
The cross-country ski resort is developing a series of plans to accommodate various levels of the pandemic and accompanying rules, allowing staff to react to any changes that might occur.
Access to the chalet, which normally can accommodate 300 people, will likely be limited to in-and-out traffic, allowing people to use the facilities and purchase tickets.
Houben is planning for the possibility that there may be no indoor seating available. Instead, there will likely be fire pits and picnic tables available to people outdoors.
There is anticipation that many skiers may use their own cars instead of the chalet to prepare for their outdoor venture and to have lunch.
“The ski season…. is going to feel a lot more old school,” added Houben.
But first Hardwood is preparing for its popular ski swap, which will be modified to allow social distancing using two tents as well as the chalet.
Ski Snow Valley, located just west of Barrie, indicates on its website that there will be skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and snowshoeing this winter, but the details remain a work in progress. “We just don’t know what the upcoming 2020-21 season will look like exactly,” states the website.
It indicates that limited tickets will be sold. Other precautions include distancing and restricted access to the chalet, the use of masks and smaller classes.
Mount St. Louis Moonstone and Horseshoe resorts did not return calls for details on their specific plans.
Mount St. Louis has been working on expansion. According to its website, that includes a 2,300-square-foot addition to the chalet, a new contactless chairlift experience, and additional lighting on the hill.
“Currently, in Stage 3, the resort is working diligently with provincial/local governments along with public health officials to ensure a safe environment for skiers and snowboarders,” states the northern Simcoe County resort’s website.
Blue’s plans for this winter is to use some of its vast space to create places where people can access services and gather outdoors, safely expanding upon the outdoor dining opportunities created this summer.
Skiers and snowboarders can expect to see more protected areas throughout the resort’s property, including sheltered patio spaces, outdoor structures and tents equipped with heaters. Winter plans will include offering food and beverage areas and rental facilities outside of the built structures.
This summer, Blue’s beverage partner, Molson Coors, converted a shipping container into an outdoor bar at the bottom of one of the ski runs. Another container bar was opened at the top with the Summitview Pavilion in the fall.
The idea now, Lovell says, is to create more of those options and reduce some of the reasons for people to go indoors,
That will complement the 940 patio seats opened in the Village during the summer.
“There’s lots of outdoor seating, even with physical distancing. So they’re looking at how to continue that as well,” said Lovell.
Masks will continue to be required where there might be groups of people, such as in the lift lines, as well as indoors. In addition there will be an emphasis on physical distancing, handwashing and hygiene.
In addition, skiers and boarders are encouraged to arrive equipped ready to hit the slopes.
“Operationally, we still need to pay attention to what public health is going to recommend,” she said. “A lot of the ski areas are waiting to hear what public health is going to require and balance that with what they need to make sure their pass holders are getting the same experience.
“We know that there will need to be some indoor space for people who either need to use the facilities or need to get their gear on," Lovell added.
Blue intends to maintain the staffing level of 2,000 employees, including an international workers’ complement, subject to federal regulations.
Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com