Canadian ski resorts seeing busy start to season thanks to COVID-19

Lawna Hurl had never purchased a season pass for a ski resort before but this year with dwindling options for sports and recreation amid COVID-19, the Calgary mother of three decided it was time.

“It’s just so hard being cooped up,” Hurl said.  “All three of (my children) play hockey and they haven’t been able to do that. Skiing is something we can do instead and we hope to be out here a lot.”

Nakiska Ski Resort near Calgary opened for weekend skiing in early November. General Manager Jan Sekerek says the hill has been very busy so far.

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“People want to come out so people are coming in heaps,” he says. “The pandemic impacts turnout very positively, people are so keen to get out in the fresh air and do something where they can forget about the pandemic.”

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Still, even on the slopes, COVID-19 safety protocols are top of mind. Masks are required at Nakiska as soon as guests arrive in the parking lot and lifts are operating at reduced capacity, making for longer line-ups at the base of the hill.  The hill is also limiting capacity by selling day tickets ahead of time, online.

“Every weekend we are selling out and we will be selling out because the capacity for day tickets is relatively low because this is the only way we can regulate our visitations.”

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Nakiska is considered a local ski destination, in a normal year most of its guests are from Calgary but destination resorts like Lake Louise and Whistler typically rely on international travelers.

“With the borders closed, we’re obviously not getting the U.S. and international guests that we had in the past but the increased interest from the local market I think will certainly make up for it,” said Dan Markham, Lake Louise Ski Resort communications director.

The local interest is boosting sales at ski and snowboard retailers as well.

“This year has been our busiest ever since I opened the store over 10 years ago,” said Jay Vaughan, the owner of Moutain Cultures in Calgary.

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“Sales have jumped about 300 per cent over last year.

“We’re seeing brand new skiers and boarders getting their first sets of gear and snowbirds that aren’t going south this year decide to dust off the skis and get the first season pass they’ve had in several years.”

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