Skis, snow, and sanitization: Manitoba resorts hopeful they can open to skiers during COVID-19

They have snow, they have staff and they have plans to keep skiers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, ski resorts in Manitoba are just hoping the province’s COVID-19 numbers will drastically improve in time for them to open for the season.

Opening each year is a gamble in itself, said Caleigh Christie, who manages the Falcon Trails Resort in southeastern Manitoba.

There are a lot of upfront costs ski resorts incur just getting set up for the season to start, before they know what the weather will bring and how much business they’ll get, she said.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated those challenges, as resorts are even more unsure of when they’ll be able to open, said Christie.

Though they might be competitors, this year, resort owners have been working together and brainstorming ways to bring in business while keeping customers safe, she said. 

“It’s been really heartwarming to see that we’ve got each others’ backs.”

At the Holiday Mountain Resort near La Rivière, about 130 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, preparations have been underway for the upcoming season pretty much since the last season ended in March, said the ski hill’s general manager.

Bernice Later says that includes setting up hand-sanitizing stations, changing the seating in indoor facilities to allow more space, and adding a significant amount of plexiglass throughout the resort. 

“I can tell you, every ski resort in Manitoba has been doing this all summer,” she said, adding that the ski industry has been phenomenal at working together to deal with COVID-19 related challenges.

Daymon Guillas, president of Asessippi Ski Area and Resort, said his staff has been busy reorganizing the ski hill’s indoor facilities to make more space for people spread out, and has also created lots of outdoor lounge areas. (Travel Manitoba)

Asessippi Ski Area and Resort, about 150 kilometres northwest of Brandon, has set a tentative opening date of Dec. 19. That’s about a week after the critical-level restrictions now in place under the province’s pandemic response system are set to expire, but Manitoba’s premier suggested this week a “high level of restrictions” are likely to continue past that.

In the meantime, staff have been busy making snow and creating extra space at the ski hill so that people can space out, said Daymon Guillas, president of Asessippi Ski Area and Resort.

The ski hill’s indoor area is quite large — about 35,000 square feet — but Asessippi will limit how many people can come inside at a time.

The resort is also bringing in thousands of hay bales to create makeshift shelters so people can hang out outside. 

On top of that, the resort has converted its campground area into another place where people can hang out and eat their meals, Guillas said. 

“We’re not going to be part of the problem. We’ll be part of the solution,” he said, adding the resort hopes to offer people a way to get outside and be active during the pandemic.

If ski hills are able to open, Vivianne Julien at Springhill Winter Park, just northeast of Winnipeg’s perimeter, says she thinks it’s going to be busy. She has been getting requests since June about booking ski lessons this winter — something that usually doesn’t start happening until October. 

Vivianne Julien, owner of Springhill Winter Sports Park, says she’s been getting calls about ski lessons since June. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

“People are looking for some kind of activity or to get out, so we expect that we would be busy this year,” she said. 

Even though Falcon Trails won’t be able to offer the usual cozy atmosphere, Christie said she hopes her resort, and others, can still offer people some kind of outlet after being stuck inside for weeks. 

“We’re going to try to offer a wonderful place to escape the craziness of this world.”