The province of Ontario has imposed a 28-day shutdown of much of the province beginning Dec. 26 to curtail a spike in coronavirus cases, shuttering most of the province’s ski areas during the holiday period and beyond. The shutdown has stirred pushback from both skiers and some resorts after months of preparation for social distancing and other Covid mitigation measures.
The shutdown bans indoor gatherings except for household members, and limits outdoor gatherings to 10 persons. That means no indoor or outdoor dining or in-person shopping, except that big-box retailers can operate at 25 percent of capacity, and food stores and pharmacies at 50 percent. Residents are advised to stay home and limit all non-essential travel.
All indoor and outdoor sports and recreational fitness facilities must be closed, except for facilities operated for the sole use of high-performance athletes. Outdoor ice rinks and parks can remain open, though, and X-C centers are operating as well. Many ski and snowboard resorts feel they should have been allowed to remain open as well.
“Despite working with the Government of Ontario over the past several months … and despite investing heavily into this year’s season to keep Ontarians safe, the government has decided to shutdown ski hills,” said Kevin Nichol, president of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association (OSRA).
OSRA had been working with the government to ensure that ski hills would be supported as golf courses were during the first wave of the pandemic last spring and summer.
“While golf courses were supported by the Ontario Government, even during the height of the first wave of the pandemic, ski hills have been left behind. This has caused resorts to spend millions of dollars in anticipation of opening, just to be closed. Thousands of resort employees are now furloughed, and all Ontarians who enjoy downhill skiing won’t be able to participate and will lose out on an activity that helps their physical and mental health,” said Nichol.
The broad shutdown of resorts led more than 15,000 skiers, as of Tuesday morning, to petition the government to allow the resorts to remain open.
Nichol noted there have been no outbreaks associated with ski hills in the province, and said that as late as last week, the province was telling him his sector would be receiving good news.
“Something changed over the weekend,” Nichol said. “We’ve asked about the rationale for that decision … [we’re] hoping that we can at least hear from the government why they decided to single out ski hills in Ontario.”
Meanwhile, on the same day of the announcement (Dec. 22), the government of Quebec moved in the opposite direction, increasing chairlift loading capacity from one person per chair to 50 percent of chair capacity. Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America to close resorts currently.
Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer for Calabogie Peaks Resort, said, “It’s devastating to not only ourselves as operators, but to the communities.”
Hemlin said the area was following provincial standards to limit the spread of COVID-19, “So it’s really hard for us to understand why we’ve been isolated when parks are still available, rinks are still available.”
“This is 28 days in the middle of peak season. It will be a tough pill to swallow for the ski industry,” said Jonathan Reid, Skyline Horseshoe Resort.
Even so, he understood the concern. “Obviously, this news is disappointing, but it’s what needs to be done to keep everybody safe,” he said. “The biggest challenge is the chairlift lines, and also people coming out of different areas to come up to ski resorts.”
Blue Mountain said in a statement that it would shut down as required on Dec. 26, and was working with guests to answer questions regarding reservations.
“Thank you for your patience as we continue to assess this evolving situation,” the statement said, as the resort anticipated heavy call, e-mail, and social media traffic.
“We encourage everyone to follow current public health guidelines and look forward to welcoming guests back to Blue when shutdown ends after January 23,” the statement said.
Resorts were widely praised for their Covid mitigation efforts by local officials. Dr. Ian Arra, Medical Officer of Health for Grey and Bruce counties, said that Blue Mountain and other businesses “are not just meeting our expectations, but exceeding them.”
Alar Soever, mayor of the town of The Blue Mountains, said the resort has done a great job putting protocols in place, but that the shutdown was unavoidable given the number of cases throughout Ontario.