Edmonton

Rinks and slopes introduce pandemic precautions to keep winter activities going

Outdoor sports seem like an ideal solution in this pandemic winter of our discontent, but new health restrictions have made the pursuit of happiness a little bit trickier.

Health restrictions have made our pursuit of happiness a little trickier

Community leagues that have chosen to open their outdoor rinks will have to limit the number of skaters and disallow shinny under current health rules in Alberta. (Patrick Morrell/Radio-Canada)

Get some fresh air, they said. Be active in the great outdoors, they told us. 

But what seemed like a simple solution in this pandemic winter of our discontent has become trickier with new and ongoing health restrictions to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Consider, for example, skating at the community rink.

"The restrictions apply to rinks just like anywhere else in the city," said Laura Cunningham-Shpeley, executive director of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. 

"We can't have more than 10 people gather on the ice at one time on these rinks. We can't have any sports of any kind happening on the ice. There won't be any bathrooms or rink shacks open, at this point until Dec. 15," she told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Friday.

On Tuesday, the Alberta government announced a swath of mandatory measures in response to the record-high levels of active and new cases of COVID-19 in the province. 

Indoor social activities are banned and outdoor activities can't exceed 10 people. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, has even said that a backyard gathering means no access to the home for warming up or using the washroom.

The measures have also halted all team sport activities, which includes pick-up games of shinny.

On the bright side, face masks are standard garb for downhill ski enthusiasts, which is good news for Edmonton's Snow Valley where they're mandatory at all times — even on the slopes.

"You know, a run at Snow Valley is very quick," Tim Dae, spokesperson for the ski hill, told Edmonton AM on Friday.

"To be flipping it on and off, I would find that somewhat annoying. So just keep it on."

Edmonton's Snow Valley Ski Resort has limited the number of skiers it can accommodate at a single time. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

As a small hill — Dae estimates it has about 10 "ski-able" acres — Snow Valley is limiting the number of skiers on the hill at any one time. 

There are no such daily limits at Marmot Basin in Jasper, and vice-president Brian Rode said that business is booming for this time of year.

"A very busy day would be about 3,500 people," Rode told Edmonton AM. "In November, a typically early-season Saturday, we might see 1,200 to 1,500. … Last Saturday, we saw 2,400."

At both ski hills, masks, distancing and indoor capacity limits are being carefully enforced in lineups, rental areas, concessions and inside the chalet. 

"The only time you don't need to wear a mask is when you're actually skiing or snowboarding down the hill," Rode said about Marmot's protocols. 

"People have been very good about it. They're physically spacing themselves in the lineup. They're wearing masks."

To encourage people to stay outdoors, Snow Valley has set up an outdoor tent that sells hot chocolate, snacks and the like, while Marmot — which has reduced its chalet capacity by 50 per cent — has tent-covered seating areas on its patios and extra outdoor food concessions and barbecues.

"People do have choices," Rodes said. "What we don't accommodate indoors because of the reduced seating, we're making up for as best as we can in the outdoor spaces." 

Back at the rinks, Cunningham-Shpeley said some community leagues are simply holding off opening their ice surfaces. But those that have opened are using some creative strategies to allow winter fun to happen in a safe fashion.

People should reach out to their league to find out what protocols are in place, she said.

"Whether it be through a sign-up app that people have to sign up online for a slot an hour, that they can come skate, or just allowing people to come in and … bring your regular stick and just do some skills. Because shinny just can't happen right now," she said.

"Until after Dec. 15, until we know more, the leagues are really trying to keep Edmontonians safe."

Of the city's skating surfaces, only Victorial Oval is currently open. Skaters are urged to bring a mask and hand sanitizer, maintain physical distance and leave personal belongings at home. 

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