Ontario lockdown measures will be ‘devastating,’ says ski hill operator

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Ski hills are set to close under Ontario’s new lockdown measures, and one resort in eastern Ontario is calling the decision “devastating” for the industry.

Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer for the Calabogie Peaks Resort in Calabogie, Ont., said the phones have been ringing off the hook since the province’s announcement was made Monday afternoon. 

“It’s devastating to not only ourselves as operators, but to the communities,” he said.

Ontario announced on Monday that as of Boxing Day, the southern part of the province would be entering a 28-day lockdown.

The new rules include restrictions on businesses and gatherings, as well as shutting down some outdoor activities such as downhill skiing. Parks, skating rinks and cross-country ski and snowshoe trails across Ontario will remain open. 

Ontario lockdown measures will be 'devastating,' says ski hill operator
Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer of Calabogie Peaks Resort, says the lockdown measures are particularly hard for resorts in the Ottawa area because there are five hills that will be allowed to open across the border in Quebec. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Mansfield Ski Club, a resort north of Toronto, said in a letter to members the decision to shut down ski hills creates more questions than answers. Chris Salhany, general manager of the club, said nevertheless the ski hill will treat this as a “pause” in operations and that it expects to reopen on Jan. 24.

“I would like to send a special thanks to our staff that have done so much to create a safe environment for us to work and play. We will come out of this stronger and will have a great season, certainly one to remember,” said Salhany.

At Calabogie, Hemlin said the hill’s policies ensured it 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,” he said. 

Hills open across the border in Quebec

Hemlin said what’s hardest for Calabogie Peaks — which is currently in the green zone of Ontario’s colour-coded COVID-19 response framework — is the fact that ski hills are allowed to operate just across the border in Quebec. 

“The guests and our clients are going to be crossing the border to go skiing. And that’s devastating to a small business,” he said. 

The resort redesigned its ticketing system so people wouldn’t have to wait in long lines for tickets for the lift. Hemlin said there’s signage all around the resort, and they’ve restricted their dining area so people can only eat food in their vehicles.

“The early opening that we’ve experienced already, people respected it. Everybody was here with masks on inside. They were wearing masks on the lifts,” he said.

No outbreaks, says provincial association

The decision is particularly perplexing as there have been no outbreaks associated with ski hills in the province, said Kevin Nichol, president of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association.

Even in the province’s grey lockdown zones, hills have been able to stay open, Nichol said.

As late as last week, the province was telling him his sector would be receiving good news, he said.

“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.”

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