Ontario lockdown measures will be 'devastating,' says ski hill operator

Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer for the Calabogie Peaks Resort in Calabogie, Ont., said people will still take to the slopes given there are hills right across the border in Quebec that will remain open.

28-day lockdown ordered for all of southern Ontario starting Boxing Day

Ontario lockdown big blow to Ottawa area ski resort operator

2 years ago
Duration 1:12
Calabogie Peaks Resort CEO Jim Hemlin says he's brought in costly and strict rules to keep his Ottawa Valley resort safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he's shocked that he's being forced to shut down because of Ontario's lockdown set to start on Boxing Day.

Ski hills are set to close under Ontario's new lockdown measures, and one resort in eastern Ontario is calling the decision "devastating" for the industry.

Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer for the Calabogie Peaks Resort in Calabogie, Ont., said the phones have been ringing off the hook since the province's announcement was made Monday afternoon. 

"It's devastating to not only ourselves as operators, but to the communities," he said.

Ontario announced on Monday that as of Boxing Day, the southern part of the province would be entering a 28-day lockdown.

The new rules include restrictions on businesses and gatherings, as well as shutting down some outdoor activities such as downhill skiing. Parks, skating rinks and cross-country ski and snowshoe trails across Ontario will remain open. 

Calabogie Peaks Resort is one of the ski hills that will be forced to close during the 28-day shutdown in Ontario. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Mansfield Ski Club, a resort north of Toronto, said in a letter to members the decision to shut down ski hills creates more questions than answers. Chris Salhany, general manager of the club, said nevertheless the ski hill will treat this as a "pause" in operations and that it expects to reopen on Jan. 24.

"I would like to send a special thanks to our staff that have done so much to create a safe environment for us to work and play. We will come out of this stronger and will have a great season, certainly one to remember," said Salhany.

At Calabogie, Hemlin said the hill's policies ensured it was following provincial standards to limit the spread of COVID-19.

"So it's really hard for us to understand why we've been isolated when parks are still available, rinks are still available," he said. 

Hills open across the border in Quebec

Hemlin said what's hardest for Calabogie Peaks — which is currently in the green zone of Ontario's colour-coded COVID-19 response framework — is the fact that ski hills are allowed to operate just across the border in Quebec

"The guests and our clients are going to be crossing the border to go skiing. And that's devastating to a small business," he said. 

The resort redesigned its ticketing system so people wouldn't have to wait in long lines for tickets for the lift. Hemlin said there's signage all around the resort, and they've restricted their dining area so people can only eat food in their vehicles.

"The early opening that we've experienced already, people respected it. Everybody was here with masks on inside. They were wearing masks on the lifts," he said.

No outbreaks, says provincial association

The decision is particularly perplexing as there have been no outbreaks associated with ski hills in the province, said Kevin Nichol, president of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association.

Even in the province's grey lockdown zones, hills have been able to stay open, Nichol said.

As late as last week, the province was telling him his sector would be receiving good news, he said.

"Something changed over the weekend," Nichol said. "We've asked about the rationale for that decision … [we're] hoping that we can at least hear from the government why they decided to single out ski hills in Ontario."

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