BANFF – Powder season is on its way to the Rocky Mountains and under new rules, masks will be required at one ski resort in Banff National Park.
In COVID-19’s beginning stages of global spread, the virus emphatically shut down the 2019-20 ski season months ahead of schedule.
For the upcoming season, local ski resorts are looking forward to guests returning to the slopes, which will be different than previous years with updated health and safety measures and in some cases, fewer staff.
“We’ve had a lot more time since last season to prepare and to refine how to operate in these new times,” said Andre Quenneville, general manager of Mt. Norquay Ski Resort in Banff.
“We put a lot of brain power behind it, we worked with the entire industry … to come up with guidelines to help us all operate through this.”
As it currently stands, some of the biggest changes at the hills include social distancing and required masks at Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff and Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis Country. Fortress Mountain Resort, which offers CAT skiing in Kananaskis, hasn't finalized a policy yet, but expects face coverings to be mandatory for guests and staff. If necessary, masks will be required when social distancing isn’t possible at Banff National Park ski hills Norquay and Lake Louise Ski Resort.
“For example, on those rare busy Saturdays when there are temporary lineups, guests will be required to wear masks while in line,” said Dan Markham, Lake Louise Ski Resort’s communication director.
“Should they choose to ride a lift with someone not within their party, again masks will be required. At this time they are not required in our lodges and restaurants if distancing can be maintained. All staff will of course be masked when they are engaging our guests.”
The Lake Louise resort intends to implement social distancing measures, and will offer incentives for guests to come mid-week when ski volumes are lower.
“We do anticipate a number of times throughout the season when supply will exceed demand given the COVID restrictions, so the idea of some form of reservation system for those specific times is something we are looking at but have yet to define,” Markham said.
At Mt. Norquay, adjacent to the Banff townsite, wearing masks will be mandatory when physical distancing cannot be maintained indoors, or on lifts. There will be effort from staff to help maintain a social distance while guests use lifts. Staff will try to accommodate family and friends with lift rides.
“We strongly recommend people use [masks] and they are available for all our staff to use and our staff, in certain positions, are using them,” said Quenneville.
"We will be working with the AHS [Alberta Health Services] to provide adequate spacing and the capacities for the buildings ... whether or not we require absolutely use for a mask, I think those are things might be occurring closer to the date."
Norquay is currently looking into having guests purchase tickets online. However, Quenneville said, they aren't looking into having a reservation system.
"We feel like we can manage the situation in many other ways before we have to take steps of say, having a reservation system," he said.
Quenneville added that they plan on running shuttles up to the resort with AHS guidelines, and will have a limited event schedule this season.
Each local resort is following up-to-date guidelines and recommendations from governing bodies and AHS, and some resorts indicted that if and when provincial health regulations ease during the season, resort rules will be modified as well.
At Sunshine, it will have social distancing measures around the resort, which will include additional outdoor tents for people to sit in. Masks will be mandatory in all public places including the gondola, lifts, lift lines and indoor spaces.
“As of presently, we have introduced social distancing measurements and we are working on making sure the resort is more spaced out so that we can offer a great recreational experience for all of our guests while they’re able to still stay safe,” said Kendra Scurfield, brand and communications director.
When using gondola or lifts, Sunshine will try to accommodate family and friends riding together.
“If there are two singles, or two people that don’t know each other, and if it is a busy day, they would be going up together, but we are going to do our best to make sure to keep the space as best we can,” said Scurfield.
A reservation system is being discussed at Sunshine, however, Scurfield said they hope social distancing measures, plus having a spread out arrival time with a new afternoon only season pass will suffice.
Currently, Sunshine is discussing how its food and beverage service will look and it anticipates less sit down services this year. As a result, the resort is expecting lower staffing levels due to operational measures coming into effect.
“Last year, at fully staffed it was about 800 [positions], and this year, we expect to be maybe 500 to 560,” Scurfield said.
Norquay also anticipates about 25 per cent less staff than in previous years.
“We're planning for a small reduction in staff, but we're going to have enough staff if we get busy, for sure," said Quenneville.
At Fortress, which will have about 14 guests per day visiting its CAT skiing operation in early December, the resort's main focus is the safety of staff and guests. Chris Mueller, director of operations, said new measures are in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but a policy hasn't been finalized. He expects it will be closer to its opening date.
"I would expect these new practices to include the use of face coverings (for both guests and staff) when indoors or in situations where appropriate physical distancing can not be maintained, adjustment to our seating layout in the K-Pow Lounge (where guests get ready for their day) to provide increased spacing between chairs, increased sanitization frequency, pre-arrival questionnaires, staff daily self assessments, and inclusion of COVID protocols in our daily staff and guest safety briefings," Mueller wrote in an email. "We are already able to maintain contact tracing through our booking system. Our main focus, as it always is, will be on doing everything we can to ensure the safety of both our guests and staff."
At Nakiska, masks will be required inside lodges and buildings and where physical distancing isn’t possible.
“I am optimistic that we are going to have an incredible, albeit different, winter,” said Matt Mosteller, senior vice president, marketing and resort experience. “We are working together with health authorities at all levels and directly involved in creating industry-wide COVID best practices with our partners at Canada West Ski Area Association.”
Opening dates haven't yet been pencilled in officially, but estimated openings include Oct. 31 at Norquay; and according to www.snowpak.ca, Nov. 9 at Sunshine; Nov. 10 at Lake Louise; and Nov. 17 at Nakiska.