COVID-19 forcing many 'adaptations' on ski resorts near the GTA as cases surge

As the temperature drops and COVID-19 cases continues to surge in Ontario, ski resorts near the GTA are adapting by moving ticket purchases online and limiting capacity to allow for physical distancing on the slopes.

Skiers, snowboarders to face new restrictions on the slopes this season

Blue Mountain Resort is getting ready for the opening of ski season amid the pandemic. Tickets will be sold online and capacity will be capped to allow for physical distancing. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

As the temperature starts to drop in Ontario and COVID-19 cases surge, skiers and snowboarders will face new restrictions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus at resorts near the Greater Toronto Area.

"Summer has been a great dress rehearsal for for winter," said Dan Skelton, the president of Blue Mountain Resort, a 160-kilometre drive northwest of Toronto, near Collingwood, Ont. 

"We've got a lot of plans in the toolbox, a lot of adaptations."

Some of the "adaptations" ski resorts are putting in place include moving ticket purchases online and limiting capacity to allow for physical distancing on the slopes.

But even as cases of the novel coronavirus surge at a dangerously high pace in Ontario and talk of new restrictions and lockdowns becomes louder, ski resort operators are sounding optimistic about the volume of business they'll do when they open. 

Mount St. Louis Moonstone is renovating its equipment rental space to allow for more physical distancing. The hill will also be limiting access to its lodge amid the pandemic. (Rob Huter, Owner Mount St. Louis Moonstone)

"I'm looking to the summertime where the golf industry ... had one of their best years ever," said Robert Huter, owner and general manager of Mount St. Louis Moonstone, located near Barrie, Ont. about 142 kilometres north of Toronto.

"I think people, because they're not going to be able to travel, they're not going to be able to go to Florida, they're going to look for some sort of escape to get outside and do something."

Weather permitting, both Blue Mountain and Mount St. Louis Moonstone are hoping to get the season underway at the beginning of December. Operators like Huter and Skelton are confident they can open safely as long as they can sell tickets ahead of time online and limit the number of people on the hills.

Skiers and snowboarders "can't expect to just drive up and say, 'I'm going to be able to go skiing,'" explained Huter.

Directional walking pathways have been marked in Blue Mountain Village. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

 "We don't want to disappoint people in that respect."

Before the pandemic, Mount St. Louis Moonstone could accommodate about 5,000 people on a busy day with night skiing open, Huter says.

"So we're looking at potentially cutting that back to about 60 per cent," he said. How many will be season pass holders is still to be determined.

The lodge's bathroom facilities will be open, but Huter says access to the building will be restricted.

Demand for lift tickets at ski hills like this one at Mount St. Louis Moonstone is expected to spike as the number of COVID-19 cases rises in the province and winter weather approaches (Rob Huter, Owner Mount. St. Louis Moonstone)

"When you arrive, you're going to put all your equipment on in your car and then go to the resort, the outside, pick your lifts, pick it up and go to the ski hill."

For those renting equipment, the facility is currently undergoing renovations to allow for more physical distancing in its rental area.

"We'd rather start cautiously. And as we get comfortable and as the customers get comfortable with how we're operating," said Huter.

For those looking to stay overnight, Blue Mountain Resort is still offering rooms.

"High contact touch points such as elevators, phones, door glass and door handles will be sanitized hourly," its website reads. Lodges are also still available to rent, though the website says capacity is limited to 10 people in accordance with public health guidelines.

"Plan your day around around the restrictions. Case counts and public health directives are a moving target," Skelton advised.


Natalie Kalata

Senior Reporter, CBC News

Natalie is an award-winning senior reporter for CBC News Network and CBC The National specializing in breaking news. Whether it's a terror attack or a royal tour, she brings the stories to you. Natalie lives in Toronto with her husband and family.