The COVID-19 pandemic and last summer’s drought are severely limiting skiers’ options in Manitoba this season.
Stony Mountain Ski Area will not open its slopes this winter. It’s been closed since March 15, 2020.
"We were watching the numbers and watching the variants," said Heather Campbell-Dewar, the company’s owner. "Even though people (are) double-vaxxed, we’re getting breakthrough cases… there’s just too much uncertainty and too many unknowns."
Thousands of people typically visit the site, which is roughly 20 km north of Winnipeg, each season. Most are families with children learning the sport, Campbell-Dewar said.
"Seeing all those little guys and how excited they are going down a hill on skis or a snowboard, it’s always, for us, fun and rewarding," she said.
Concern for customers, in part, kept Stony Mountain Ski Area closed last winter. Costs of snowmaking, extra cleaning procedures and other pandemic-era investments also played a role.
In spring, Campbell-Dewar was preparing to open for December 2021.
"We were all hopeful, going, ‘Wow, great,’ when we had vaccines happening, (like) we were sort of over the hump," she said.
But, things aren’t better, she said. In mid-November, her crew decided to extend their "gap year" another season.
"Even in the past couple days, (with public health officials) saying to minimize the family gatherings at Christmas and all that, it tells us we made the right decision," Campbell-Dewar said.
The lodge still needs heating and the hills require maintenance. Campbell-Dewar said she’ll search for government programs supporting businesses who’ve halted operations for two pandemic-laden years.
Holiday Mountain Resort announced its closure for the 2021-22 season in August.
"The unprecedented drought conditions across Southern Manitoba have significantly impacted the Resort’s snowmaking water source," the La Rivière, Man. company wrote in an online memo.
"Without the ability to make snow, the Resort cannot open."
Holiday Mountain didn’t respond to interview requests by print deadline. It hopes to reopen next December, according to its online statement.
It specified in comments on a Facebook post that it was short eight to 10 feet of water in August, and it takes months of maintenance — and hundreds of thousands of dollars — to prepare for ski season.
"Normally we sell passes in August and with the situation as it is, it would (be) incredibly irresponsible to sell membership when we cannot guarantee a product," the company wrote.
“Normally we sell passes in August and with the situation as it is, it would (be) incredibly irresponsible to sell membership when we cannot guarantee a product." – Holiday Mountain Resort
Falcon Ridge Ski Slopes anticipates fully opening Boxing Day. A mid-December open is typical, but this year and last, it’s been too warm to make snow in time, according to general manager Caleigh Christie. She attributes it to climate change.
"The colder, the better," she said, adding -10 C is the warmest acceptable temperature. "The colder it is, the nicer the snow, and the more of it that gets made."
Vaccination status has complicated things for the destination: everyone will be able to ski, tube and snowboard at the Whiteshell Provincial Park site, but unvaccinated folks won’t be allowed to dine indoors, unlike vaccinated patrons.
"It’ll be a different dance with the chalet," Christie said.
For the first time, staff will need to direct traffic and check proof of vaccination. People without their double-doses can use the washrooms, order takeout and grab rentals, but the expectation is they’ll be out the door quickly, Christie said.
And, should a variant like omicron cause further restrictions, Falcon Ridge is ready to switch to last year’s model — all visitors will be outside and receive their food and equipment via takeout window.
Asessippi Ski Resort, which opens Friday, has similar plans for patrons.
"Based on the amount of phone calls we’re getting… we are expecting a busier season than last," said Shannon Johnston, the resort’s assistant manager.
The Inglis, Man. slopes usually see between 60,000 and 80,000 guests per season, Johnston said. The number dropped to a maximum 30,000 last year — though the hills were open, the indoor facilities were not.
Asessippi has at least 125 new passholders this winter, Johnston said.
"We did have a tough year, obviously, last year," she said. "(But) it was always, ‘Yes, we’re moving forward’… We’re going to get a good year under our belts, and that’s what we’re shooting for (now)."
Springhill Winter Sports Park opened Wednesday, according to social media posts. Its website states all guests must wear face coverings in outdoor and indoor spaces. Unvaccinated people can partake in outdoor sports but must eat food they’ve purchased in their vehicles.
Mystery Mountain Winter Park, in Thompson, Man., intends to open New Year’s Day, according to its website. It doesn’t specify whether folks must be vaccinated, and employees didn’t respond to interview requests by print deadline.
Ski Valley, in Minnedosa, plans to open on Thursday.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.