Businesses everywhere are contending with COVID-19 guidelines set out by the government, and ski and snow resorts are no exception.
“We have been working closely with the local health unit to ensure that our facility meets recommendations and provides a safe, fun resort for our members, guests, and our employees,” says Courtney Payne, communications and events manager of Muskoka Ski Club and Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area (HVHSA). “We have high expectations for all our guests to be responsible for themselves and the people in their social bubble.”
It’s anticipated that locals will be seeking more ways to participate in recreation activities and socialize while adhering to social distancing and pandemic guidelines. “We expect skiing and snowboarding to be a popular option this winter, thanks to the fresh air and abundant space for social distancing on the slopes,” says Payne.
The Canadian Ski Council has provided guiding principles to the industry in response to the pandemic while advocating to increase participation in recreational skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing in Canada. The Ski Area Operating Best Practices document for Winter 2020-21 on the Ontario Snow Resorts Association website states: “Snowsports are a way for people to play in wide-open spaces, and to take advantage of the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor recreation.”
Typically snow resorts like Hidden Valley also provide a positive local economic impact by employing locals over the winter season and drawing Ontario residents to the popular Muskoka winter tourist destination to spend money at local businesses, restaurants, and accommodation. It remains to be seen how the province’s guidance on travel between colour zones in the new provincial COVID-19 response framework will affect the winter tourism season. Regardless of the impact, snow resorts must manage typical costly facility preparations such as snowmaking and lift maintenance, in addition to the new measures to comply with provincial health measures and regional restrictions and requirements.
Specific public health guidance and pandemic regulatory requirements for Simcoe Muskoka ski and snow resort facilities were outlined in an Oct. 20 letter by Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) medical officer of health, on the health unit’s website. The eight-page letter covered areas such as capacity control measures, indoor and outdoor physical distancing, screening, record keeping, and disinfection.
In keeping with these requirements, Payne outlines many of the protocols that will be in place at Hidden Valley Highlands this winter. “All members and season pass holders are required to register online before they arrive. We are required to provide contact tracing information and will also ask a few yes/no questions to confirm members and guest health prior to visiting. Daily guests will be asked the same questions upon arrival.”
The number of daily lift tickets may be limited due to gathering capacity restrictions, so the ski hill is recommending buying tickets in advance and online. Payne states that extra cleaning will take place throughout the busy areas of the chalet before the night-pass hours begin.
Like all indoor establishments across the province, masks will be required inside the chalet unless sitting down to eat.
“You will see directional and physical distancing stickers throughout the building, plexiglass at sales counters, a reduced number of tables in the lounges spaced with six feet between all tables, and specific doors for entering and exiting the chalet,” says Payne. Bag storage will not be permitted in the chalet. “We are asking that patrons come dressed and ready to go.”
Rental equipment will be sold online and in advance. “This means less time indoors waiting to pick up your equipment,” says Payne. “The equipment will then undergo a rigorous cleaning procedure after each use.”
Lifts and line-ups may look a little different this year, as well. “Masks and face coverings will be required while waiting in lift lines and riding the lifts. Physical distancing will also be implemented between line-up areas and while riding chairlifts,” notes Payne. “To be extra cautious, we also recommend that guests wear a face mask/covering while on the hill.”
Some lessons will still be available, to be purchased online and with new procedures and protocols. The regular Kids’ Camps will not be held over Christmas break, but private, semi-private, or bubble-private and Discovery lessons will be available at that time. Later in January, and again in February, there will be a four-week ski or snowboard Kids’ Camp with the choice of either Saturday or Sunday.
“We will ask people waiting for their lesson to please maintain social distance until the lesson supervisor has checked them in and paired them up with their instructor(s). Social distancing will be required at all times during. And if instructors need to assist a student, personal protective equipment must be worn,” states Payne. “All lesson participants will be required to wear double-layer face coverings at all times during their lessons.”
Due to the current restrictions on gathering limits, many of HVHSA’s social events have been postponed this winter, including the New Year’s Eve fireworks and the Men’s and Ladies Days. However, they are planning to hold a modified version of their annual Torchlight Parade on Dec. 24 at 6 p.m. [Correction: as of Dec. 14, 2020, this event has been postponed.]
“This is one of the longest-running Christmas traditions in Muskoka, and we would hate to miss it,” says Payne. “Join us from your cars in the parking lot and watch as skiers descend the Flying Dutchman with torches to help welcome the holidays.”
Despite modifications to their regular programming, Payne remains optimistic about the season.
“These are challenging times, and we ask that you be patient with others, plan to have fun, and stay safe,” she says. “We are pretty lucky to have a ski resort right in our own backyard here in Huntsville, and hopefully people take advantage. We are excited and looking forward to another great season of skiing and snowboarding at Hidden Valley Highlands!”
Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area expects to open for a sneak peek weekend from Friday, Dec. 11 to Sunday, Dec. 13, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, weather permitting. The ski hill will be open for holiday hours from Friday, Dec. 18 to Sunday, January 3, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days. Regular season hours begin on Monday, January 4, 2021. Visit skihiddenvalley.ca for more information and updates.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!