Ontario ski hill operators say they're being left in the cold by the provincial government as their business heads to Quebec.
“We’ve had to lay off staff and, to me, it's pretty unfair, three days before Christmas, to tell them that this is going to be your last day,” says Andrew Burns, director and head of operations at Mount Pakenham Ski Resort, a short distance west of Ottawa.
The resort would normally be packed with skiers and snowboarders right now but, instead, the hills are bare as they remain closed until the provincewide shutdown ends.
“The Christmas vacation is probably our busiest time of year,” says Burns. “We invest money based on the fact that we’re going to be open at Christmas time.”
The Ford government shut down non-essential businesses in Ontario on Dec. 26, 2020 to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Ski hills were told to close as part of the lockdown. Staff say it is just forcing skiers in the area to cross over to Quebec, where hills remain open.
Julie Burns, director and head of marketing for Mount Pakenham says, “We were blindsided that our shutdown, which was meant to discourage inter-regional travel, is going to do the opposite.”
“People want refunds and want to go ski in Quebec,” Andrew Burns says, “because Quebec has deemed it a safe activity. Just like every other province in Canada.”
Dr. Steve Walker is an avid skier and thinks it was a mistake to shut down ski hills in Ontario.
“Certainly, with all the things that we’ve been doing with social distancing and mask wearing, it seems to me like skiing is probably the perfect outdoor sport to actually encourage all of the COVID-19 measures anyway,” he says.
The resort put safety measures in place to keep their members and staff safe, from outdoor ticket booths to Plexiglas inside the rental building as well as 26 portable toilets outside.
“We’ve all worked together to come out with proven protocols that can help keep the already low transmission even lower,” says Julie Burns.
She also says many families were upset to find out that they wouldn’t be able to ski over the Christmas break. She said some people got their kids new ski equipment or a season pass for Christmas, only to learn they wouldn't be able to use them.
“Those emails were hard to get,” she said.
“The initial investment to open the business is around $800,000,” Says Andrew Burns, “and we’ve already spent that. That’s not a refundable amount of money.”
Staff say they are losing roughly $5,000 a day due to the closure, but they are hopeful the Ontario government will soon reconsider their decision.