Ski hill openings delayed until Boxing Day in Ottawa area

Many ski hills in the Ottawa area are only able to open on Boxing Day, but some managers say there's still time to make up the lost revenue from this delayed start.

Many resorts opening for the first time on Dec. 26, the start one of their busiest weeks

Crews at Mount Pakenham have been building piles of snow to outlast the warm weather. They'll then spread them out to cover some runs for its season opening on Saturday. (Mount Pakenham)

Many ski hills in the Ottawa area are only able to open on Boxing Day, but some managers say there's still time to make up the lost revenue from this delayed start.

On a Christmas Eve where the temperature reached 17 C, you'd be hard-pressed to find a hill to ski on in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

Mont Ste-Marie resort general manager Richard Léveillé said they spent around $50,000 (or $5,000 a day) making artificial snow to open for the first time Dec. 23, then had to close the next day.

"The holidays weren't that strong last year, I remember we were 50 per cent open on each mountain, we had a few trails on each mountain. Then we got into some extreme cold after the holidays, -30 C for about two months," he said.

"This year is brutal. The start is brutal, anyway. Will it get better over the winter? I hope so."

Ski resorts have been forced to monitor the weather closely due to the unpredictability.

"It's not a lot of fun every morning checking the weather forecast because it's been very volatile, just when you think we have snow-making weather coming it changes back to being too mild," said Mount Pakenham general manager Joanne Clifford, whose hills haven't opened yet.

"The latest we've ever opened in the last 25 years [since I've been here] was Dec. 21. This is definitely a little later than I would like."

Ways to cope

Mont Ste-Marie in western Quebec opened for the first time this season on Wednesday, then was forced to close because of warm weather on Thursday. (Mont Ste-Marie)
Mount Pakenham has been stockpiling snow to outlast the warm spell with its eyes on opening its beginner runs on Saturday.

"When you make snow you tend to make piles then you groom them out, but if you've got warm weather ahead in the forecast you can hold off and not groom it out until you're past the warm weather and the rain," said Clifford.

Léveillé said they've been inviting hikers and mountain bikers to their resort as a way to diversify their activities as they wait for Saturday's re-opening, which is also when temperatures should drop. 

"Definitely [Dec.] 27, Sunday night, temperatures are supposed to go down to -11 C in our region and it's supposed to hold like that for 10 days," he said.

He also said their snow machines can make snow when it's around -3 C outside, good snow when it's -6 C and hit max production around -10 C to -12 C.

All is not lost

Both Léveillé and Clifford said they're hopeful they can make up lost revenue from the delayed start with a good rest of the season, including the coming week, which could be their busiest of the season.

"The goal is to open more and more terrain and have really strong weekends for the rest of the season, that's what will probably happen," Léveillé said.

"People have a minimum of [skiing] they would like to do. If they can't do it during the holidays usually by experience we see an increase in weekends after that. They've bought pre-sale products and all this and they want to use them."

"It's not going to be the best start ever but by [the new year] we should have several runs open," Clifford said.


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