With just four days until the COVID lockdown in northern Ontario is expected to end, some ski hills are preparing to open.
However, with fresh snow comes fresh rules.
Both Laurentian Ski Hill in North Bay and Boogie Mountain in Espanola released similar notices on Facebook on Monday declaring no one from southern Ontario will be allowed on the hills, and some form of identification will be required.
“We feel that we’re going to have a hard enough time enforcing all our rules without a tonne of people coming up from Toronto,” said Tom Hutchinson, general manager at Boogie Mountain. “We want to take as much precautions as possible and we’re opening up for the people in the area.”
For ski officials, the decision is all about safety.
“As much as we would welcome the extra revenue from people outside our community, safety has got to be our priority,” said Laurentian Ski Hill general manager Michael King. “We’re doing it to protect our staff, protect our customers and to protect our community and that’s priority No. 1.”
Boogie Mountain will be accepting guests from Sudbury, Lively, Nairn, Webbwood, McKerrow, Espanola, Massey and Manitoulin. Laurentian Ski Hill will accept everyone who lives within the two-week provincial shutdown boundary. However, for both hills, the rules are non-negotiable.
“We’re opening up two weeks before the hills in the south open,” said Hutchinson. “So they’d be looking at us to see if we’re doing it right … If we don’t do it right and cases spike or anything like that, we can kiss the season goodbye. Not just us, but all of down south, too.”
Officials said it will be difficult to confirm everyone’s address, but staff will be checking before tickets are purchased and people from out of town will be asked to leave. However, there is some flexibility.
“We’re not particular about type (of ID),” said King. “I mean, if somebody’s in school -- whether it’s high school or a college or university program -- they should have a student ID and that would be sufficient for our needs.”
Hutchinson said a letter or bill with an address and name could also be accepted. He said they will be mindful of people who have been staying in the north for the entire pandemic, as well.
“If there’s going to be a problem, give me a call at the hill," he said. "We can talk about it. If they’ve been down south and they’re just coming up here for a day? No. That’s a definite no." On top of limiting which guests are allowed to use the hill, several other safety protocols are in place to in order to keep everyone safe.
“In our upper lodge we’ve installed windows so that people can buy lift tickets without actually entering the building," King said. "We’re going to have very, very limited capacity inside the building. People will be able to come in and warm up very briefly, use the washrooms, but that’s about it other than picking up rental skis.”
Safe and comfortable
He said measures have been taken outside to help keep people safe and comfortable.
“We have installed heaters under an awning outside the building where people can warm up in the outdoors, and we also have a bonfire that will be going and keeping people warm whenever we’re open for business.”
There are a number of changes at Boogie Mountain, as well.
“There’s going to be no chalet," Hutchinson said. "Your chalet’s going to be your car, like they did down south before they shut down. We’re going to have point of sale machines where somebody will come up and sell you the ticket in the parking lot or right outside. We don’t want people coming in the chalet. The bathrooms will be open.
“If everybody plays their part in this, right, and not making it something to complain about or whatever… if everybody does their part, there’s very little risk.”
Kevin Nichol, the president of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association, agrees with that sentiment.
“We’re an industry that is steeped in safety tradition," Nichol said. "We get safety. It’s how we operate,” he said.
He doesn't understand why ski hills were closed in the first place, but at this point, they just want to welcome people back.
"We need to get people getting some healthy activity on the hill again, releasing some of the anxiety that’s building from being in this unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in,” Nichol said.
Hoping to open Saturday
Both hills are preparing to open Saturday, pending weather conditions and any last-minute decisions from the Ford government.
Ski officials agree that the goal right now is to get everybody outside, stay safe and stay open -- even if that means turning people away.
“We just want to reiterate the importance of following the public guidelines and staying local,” said Nichol.
“There’s been some trips out of province to go skiing, we’re passionate people, we like to get out in the snow, we just have to be cognizant of the fact that we’re all in this together and we need to work together to follow the rules and guidelines to get this under control.”