Montreal

Quebec skiers and snowboarders look to ride out pandemic on the slopes

There are plenty of health restrictions in place at ski resorts in Quebec's red zones, but people are still enjoying the fresh air and freshly made snow this weekend.

Ski schools are closed along with mountainside shops and eateries, but skiers are undeterred

People aren't allowed to do much more than warm up and use the bathroom in the lodge, and masks are required in lines and on lifts. (CBC)

Five-year-old Melina Davy was excited to see snow machines at work Sunday while she celebrated her birthday on the slopes of Ski Saint-Bruno, just south of Montreal.

And her favourite thing about the experience?

"Getting down the mountain," she said.

There were plenty of people on the small ski hill despite the laundry list of new public health restrictions in place. 

Outdoor sports have been booming during the pandemic, with everything from bicycles to cross-country skis in high demand.

Now with restaurants and stores closed in Quebec's red zones, those who can afford the cost of lift tickets and the equipment are turning to skiing and snowboarding to pass the time. 

"This is the only thing we can do in a pandemic that's safe," said Freddy Davy, Melina's father.

Others, like Sara Long-Gagne, had the same impression on Sunday.

"Overall, it feels safe. Like everybody is wearing a mask and we see them taking precautions to make us feel safe," she said.

"And it's an activity to do to stay outside as a family and stay sane at this crazy time."

The winter holidays are typically a busy time at Quebec ski resorts. This year is a bit different with all the rules — such as wearing face coverings at all times in lines and on the lifts — and there's no hot chocolate served in the lodge.

The bathrooms aren't off limits and people can warm up inside briefly, but chairlifts are operating at half capacity with people from different addresses sitting at opposite ends.

Still, all these changes haven't turned people away.

Skiers hitting the slopes despite restrictions

Michel Couture, president of Ski Saint-Bruno, said this year has encouraged plenty of new people to try the sport, and also those who usually head south for the winter.

"Other people from other sports who didn't have time to try skiing," he said. "We have those baby boomers going out from Florida."

Areas inside the lodge at Ski Saint-Bruno are cordoned off for people from the same address to warm up together. (CBC)

Regardless of the returning boomers, profits won't be booming this year. Ski Saint-Bruno has a massive ski school and it's closed for the season as resorts in red zones can't host classes larger than eight people.

Though it was first said that equipment rentals wouldn't be available in red zones, that restriction is not in effect. People can rent skis and snowboards, but they must reserve in advance and they can't buy anything as the mountainside shop is closed.

Limited capacity limits profits

Yves Juneau, of the Quebec Ski Hill Association, says the new rules do make things tricky and his organization is pushing for more provincial support.

"So there is a boost in demand reflected in season pass sales. We see that, and the demand for lessons, but have limited capacity for those lessons," he said.

As for the Davy family, they're looking to make the most out of the season no matter the restrictions.

They're especially happy to enjoy all the snow up on the hill, made by the machine little Melina loves to see at work. 

"Normally, there's snow everywhere so we can make a snowman in the backyard, but this year only mud. So, it's the only place we can enjoy," said Davy.

"We're here to keep the  family busy and get some fresh air."

Based on a report by CBC's Chloë Ranaldi

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