By Darren Lum
It’s been weeks since Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride last opened, as it was forced to close because of the provincial lockdown measure to reduce the transmission of the novel coronavirus.
The family-run business that started more than 50 years ago plans on re-opening Feb.11, but this depends on what the province decides said Chris Bishop of Sir Sam’s.
“The last time they gave us four days notice so the hope is that we will be open two weeks from today,” he said on Thursday, Jan. 28. “But then there is chatter out there [about] ‘Why would we open up Ontario for Family Day Weekend? You’ll be crowded.’ Well, the reality is we’ve limited the number of skiers that can come here. So there will be no more skiers on Family Day Sunday than there will be on the following weekend, which is not a long weekend.”
Bishop said the Eagle Lake facility has a cap on how many lift tickets are purchased online to ensure there are no more than a thousand people at any one time. He adds this is 48 per cent less than its “busiest day.”
If they open, this wouldn’t be the only measure for Sir Sam’s.
There would be a limit to the number of people permitted to enter the chalet, with food available for pickup only from a service window, while lift tickets will be available outside. Access to the chalet will be reserved only for use of the restrooms. Masks will be required while people use the lifts and wait in line. All visitors upon arriving to the property will be directed to enter and leave through one main entrance before using the facilities so they can be assisted and informed of COVID-19 protocols. Bishop adds personal information about visitors will be on file from the online purchase of lift tickets if contact tracing is required.
Bishop said Sir Sam’s expects it will have lost out on approximately $500,000 in revenue from when Ontario’s second lockdown began on Dec. 26 up to Feb. 11.
These circumstances are unprecedented, but there is hope is to recoup some of these losses if they can reopen and remain open into April by building a greater user base. However, how much will be earned will depend largely on weather conditions and if there will be restrictions to services when and if they return to operation.
“If we’re only allowed to open and we can’t do lessons and we can’t do rental equipment, now we’re just lift tickets so you’re going to lose a lot of revenue there. You’re already losing money from food service because we’re going from cafeteria to outdoor pickup window and you’re [cutting] your sales in half there and you’re going to lose all your revenue … It all depends on what it is we’re allowed to do when we open,” he said.
The forced closure has also affected staff.
The lockdown forced Sir Sam’s into laying off around 90 individuals, with only six employees remaining on the books.
Getting back to operation will not just be good for staff, but includes giving season pass holders a recreation outlet according to Bishop.
He said season pass sales w ere up 40 per cent over previous years, which was due in large part to the travel restrictions that kept people in the province, and the cancellation of other outdoor and athletic pursuits such as organized minor hockey.
The projected losses to this point in the season keep mounting for the entire downhill snow resort industry, who are aware of the overall picture.
From a press release dated Jan. 22, “We know that getting COVID-19 case counts down is a key step in reopening ski hills this season,” said Kevin Nichol, president of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association. “We encourage every Ontarian to stay home, so we can re-open soon. Although the monetary amounts have already exceeded $100 million dollars in lost revenue and expenditures to prepare for opening the slopes safely, we are most concerned with the livelihoods of over 10,000 workers.”
Bishop admits to not having all the answers except he can’t help compare Ontario to other provinces who have permitted ski resorts to operate such as Quebec, B.C. and Alberta.
“What’s different for Ontario than it is for B.C., Alberta and Quebec. Quebec was in the red zone. Now they’re allowing skiing,” he said.
He believes there are people likely leaving the province now to satiate their alpine dreams.
“Are ski hills super spreaders? I think if they were we’d be hearing about it in B.C., Alberta and Quebec. Wouldn’t you?” he said. “I don’t know what the right answer is. All I can do is compare.”
Bishop said Ontario resorts like his feel like the industry has been punished when it comes to the measures to reduce the transmission of the novel coronavirus, as other outdoor sports such as Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and outdoor skating have been allowed to continue.
“You can go cross-country skiing. You can go snowmobiling. You can go skating. You can go snowshoeing, but you can’t go skiing. And if all our skiers are outdoors just like all the other activities and everyone is wearing a mask we just don’t see a lot of logic in it that’s all,” he said.