This winter, ski season might look a little different than most as health and safety procedures have shifted many industry’s practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet one thing that has remained constant is downhill enthusiasts can still carve through some of the best powder in the country, says Kendra Scurfield, brand and communications director for Banff Sunshine Village.
“Guest can continue to expect and enjoy the best snow in the Canadian Rockies,” she says. “At Sunshine, we’re very lucky that we’re located high up on the Continental Divide, and therefore we’ve become a bit of magnet for snow. This year is no different.”
Like other ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies, Sunshine was ordered closed on March 17, more than three months before its typical end-of-season Slush Cup over May long weekend.
Instead of opening the resort in late June for the summer season as it normally would, staff members devoted their off-season to re-developing new health and safety operating procedures that aligned with Alberta Health Service protocols. That also included reviewing best practices developed at comparable facilities in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina that were experiencing their winter during our Canadian summer.
“Each manager was assigned the responsibility of creating a COVID-19 operating plan for the winter season that reduces contact between guests, enforces social distancing and, overall, really stresses on making our resort safer,” says Scurfield.
“What guests will notice, right off the bat, is an increase in signage that reminds people to social distance from each other and to wear their masks. This year, we have also taken it upon ourselves to enforce a mandatory mask policy to ride our lifts and in places where social distancing might be harder to maintain such as lineups. Masks can be a buff, scarf or neck warmer. It just needs to pulled up and cover guests’ noses.”
Scurfield expects some degree of capacity limits in indoor spaces at Sunshine. To mitigate that, the resort has added two 4,500-square-foot tents that serve as temporary day lodge facilities. One will be in the village area at the top of the mountain, while the other will be at Goat’s Eye, which is the first stop on the Sunshine gondola.
Neither of the two facilities will impact any runs at the resort. The village-based structure allows for enough space so skiers and snowboarders can still ride to Wawa from other lifts in the village. At Goat’s Eye, there is similarly enough of room for guests to enjoy the wild ride of Rollercoaster.
Meanwhile, to allow for increased seating, Sunshine has also winterized the top floor of the Old Village Gondola Station into a picnic area for guests, including heating with tables and chairs.
With three mountains of terrain that span across 3,358 acres, Scurfield feels that, in combination with the new temporary structures being brought in this season, there will be plenty of space for skiers and snowboarders to spread out. To that end, Sunshine does not plan to limit the number of passholders or ticket holders who can ski or ride. In consulting with Alberta Health Services, the resort will also continue to load gondolas to capacity, but only during peak times.
“Our number one goal is to get our lifts running and stay open. We want to supply Albertans will a great place to recreate this winter,” says Scurfield, adding they have also sourced two temporary restroom trailers.
Of note, Sunshine is prohibiting guests from bringing their bags into the lodges unless they are using day lockers. Guests are being encouraged to get ready at their vehicles.
To help space out arrival times and give skiers and snowboarders more options and ways to save, Sunshine has also introduced a new afternoon-only (four-hour) season pass product at a significantly reduced price.
“That will help space out arrival times and reduce busy mornings,” says Scurfield.
And skiers and snowboarders who were unable to use the 2019/20 Sunshine Super Card can exchange it for a 2020/21 card for free.
While travel restrictions will reduce the number of guests Sunshine typically gets from outside of Canada, Scurfield notes most of the resort’s visitors in any given year typically hail from closer to home anyways.
“About 80 per cent of our clientele comes from Canada with Alberta being our bread and butter. Alberta is really number one in terms of skiers and snowboarders,” she says.
“And because we have such a family appeal, this makes it a great place for those with young children to come and share their love of the mountain; introduce them to the sport of skiing and snowboarding. So while we can’t travel south of the border this year, we can still rediscover and fall in love with our own backyard.”