Ottawa-area ski hills struggling during Ontario's lockdown

There may be some snow on the ground but ski hills on both sides of the Ottawa River are hurting because of Ontario's provincewide lockdown.

Hundreds of resort staff have been laid off since ski hills ordered to shut down

Ontario ski hills are closed during the provincewide shutdown and Ottawa-area operators say it's hurting their bottom line. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

There may be some snow on the ground but ski hills on both sides of the Ottawa River are hurting because of Ontario's provincewide lockdown.

The new rules came into place on Dec. 26 and include restrictions on businesses and gatherings, as well as shutting down some outdoor activities such as downhill skiing.

Mount Pakenham Ski Resort, a family-run resort 60 kilometres west of Ottawa, has been closed since Christmas Eve. Julie Burns, marketing director with the resort, said 250 staff have been laid off. 

She said the decision to close ski hills in the region doesn't make sense because hills are allowed to operate just across the border in Quebec.  

"We still have yet to be given a valid reason for our particular closure, since the only reason we've been given is to discourage inter-regional travel," Burns said. 

"It's obvious to anyone living in the National Capital Region that that is counterproductive, since there's five ski resorts on the Quebec side."

Refunds requested

Burns said customers have been requesting refunds from Mount Pakenham so they can go skiing across the border.

Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer for the Calabogie Peaks Resort in Calabogie, Ont., said he's getting similar requests and the effect of the closure has already been "devastating."

Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer for the Calabogie Peaks Resort, says at least 100 staff members have been laid off since the lockdown. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"The Christmas holidays and New Year's holidays are a big revenue stream for ski hills like ourselves. That's a revenue that will go elsewhere. They won't come here and it has a major impact to our bottom line," Hemlin said.

The resort has laid off all of its staff which is more than 100 people according to Hemlin. Because of the seasonal nature of the business, many of those people have worked limited hours and don't necessarily qualify for the federal wage subsidy. 

Quebec ski hills also struggling

Meanwhile, some Quebec ski hills say while there are still Ontarians crossing the river to go skiing, business is suffering.

Peter Sudermann is co-owner of Camp Fortune in Chelsea, Que. He said Ontario skiers are hitting the slopes but the number of visitors is down about a third compared to normal years.

"Just the travel restrictions Ontario has in place, I think it sort of curbed some of the traffic crossing the border, so to say, which is partially why we're probably seeing numbers down," Sudermann said.

He also said a number of people have been requesting refunds on seasonal passes because of the lockdown. 

Essential travel only

The Ontario Snow Resorts Association has been lobbying the province to allow ski hills to open before the lockdown ends, but so far those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Ontario's Ministry of Public Health did not say if it is enforcing its recommendations against non-essential inter-provincial travel. 

In a statement to CBC, it said "travel out of province should be limited to essential purposes only" and individuals and family arriving or returning to Ontario "should self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival."

With files from Ryan Jones

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