Snow, cold and COVID-19 precautions usher in early ski season in Western Canada

Snow, cold and COVID-19 precautions usher in early ski season in Western Canada
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CALGARY — Western Canadians tired of isolating at home are filling the slopes at mountain ski resorts that are opening earlier than usual as worries rise about surging cases of COVID-19.

Two Banff National Park resorts have had their earliest openings on record thanks to abundant snow and cold temperatures needed for machine-made snow — 95-year-old Banff Norquay opened Oct. 24 and Lake Louise, about 40 year old in its current form, opened Oct. 29.

Nakiska Ski Area, about 100 kilometres west of Calgary, opened for weekend preview skiing last weekend (it goes seven days a week as of Nov. 27), and Sunshine Village Ski Resort opened on Monday.

Marketing director Simon Moffat says lift tickets sales have been brisk at Norquay despite having only one of its four chairlifts open. The resort is selling tickets by reservation only and on the first day reached a self-imposed cap on sales to limit crowding in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Lake Louise, meanwhile, director of communications Dan Markham says seven of 10 lifts were open on Tuesday, along with 50 of 160 runs. The resort recommends buying passes or tickets before coming to the hill but does sell tickets there and has no limits on attendance.

Ski areas are generally requiring guests wear masks while lining up and riding the ski lifts and indoors to control coronavirus spreading but rules vary on how many people are allowed on chair lifts and gondolas and whether you can buy tickets at the resort.

“”We’re excited to be opening but, no surprise, it’s very much a different year this year,” said Christopher Nicolson, CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, which represents 92 ski hills west of the Manitoba-Ontario border.

“One of the key messages we would have for our guests is plan ahead, look online, understand what the pandemic protocols will be at the ski area. Do that in advance of arriving.”

He said ski areas have been focused on how to operate safely with the COVID-19 pandemic since being closed down last March, with many fine-tuning procedures during the summer hiking and biking season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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