Outaouais ski hills optimistic after getting winter go-ahead from province
Parts of western Quebec considered red zone, which could mean tighter rules
Despite tough new COVID-19 restrictions, the operators of a pair of western Quebec ski hills are optimistic about the winter season now that the province has cleared them to open.
On Friday, the Quebec government confirmed skiers and snowboarders would be allowed to hit the slopes this year, albeit with measures in place to keep the pandemic at bay.
Provincewide, the rules include handwashing, keeping a two-metre distance and wearing a face covering — be it a mask indoors or a balaclava or scarf outdoors — at all times.
In "red zones," the highest level on the province's COVID-19 alert system, the restrictions will be more stringent.
Resorts will not be allowed to rent equipment, offer classes or open their dining areas. Only families living in the same house will be able to ride lifts together, and gondolas will have limited capacity — only two people outside of family bubbles are allowed to ride along.
None of those measures will likely deter people from seeking some outdoor winter recreation, said Peter Sudermann, owner of the Camp Fortune ski hill in Chelsea, Que., which was declared a red zone last weekend.
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"The vibe for skiing, I would say, is positive in spite of all the news that we're hearing," said Sudermann, noting he's seen demand for skis shoot up as people cancel travel plans and prepare to stay closer to home.
"It'd be great if we weren't in a red zone, but measures have to be taken to keep everyone safe and try and curb what's going on."
'Sort of nervous'
At the nearby Sommet Edelweiss in Wakefield, Que., the "big change" will be that people will have to book day passes ahead of time, part of the resort's crowd management strategy, said marketing director Christian Dufour.
While Friday's announcement does create uncertainty around the hill's restaurants and ski school programs, Dufour said getting confirmation they could in fact open was most important.
"It was something we were sort of nervous [about]," said Dufour. "I think the answers [we got today] were very clear."
The announcement is a relief not just to ski hills forced to shut down in March when the pandemic was declared, but also to the province's roughly 1.4 million skiers and snowboarders, said Yves Juneau, president of the Association of Quebec Ski Resorts.
"Now we know that we'll be able to operate, even if it's the maximum alert level," Juneau told CBC Radio's Breakaway.
The new rules come at the same time Quebec is telling people not to travel between red, orange or yellow zones except for essential trips.
Travel is not "forbidden," Juneau noted, adding people should head straight the ski hills once they open — and not stop to linger.
"Don't go to the restaurant. Don't go to the grocery store," Juneau said. "That's exactly how people need to act."
With files from CBC Montreal