Fresh snow greets skiers as resorts hope to salvage some of the season

OSRA hints at seeking financial help from government

“It’s a devastating season for us,” said Kevin Nichol, President of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association (OSRA).

Nichol is grateful the lifting of the stay-at-home order in most of the province means area ski resorts were able to open their doors on Tuesday. He said resorts were ready to do business in December and had presented plans to the Ontario government to make the season COVID-safe for everyone.

The organization was left floored when resorts were ordered closed as part of the provincial stay-at-home order on Dec. 26. Nichol said Ontario was the only jurisdiction in North America to ban skiing because of the pandemic.

“We didn’t expect to be shut down and lose our Christmas break and the month of January, and a couple of weeks in February,” Nichol said.

He said resorts are happy to welcome everyone back to the slopes, and to get out and enjoy some fresh air and reduce some stress.

The OSRA learned from the province last week that the March Break holiday, another big revenue generator for resorts, if the weather cooperates, has been moved to mid-April, and by then the ski season is done. Resorts lost the March Break in 2020 during the first provincial lockdown.

Losing the Christmas holiday period is a sting that will take time to recover from, as it accounts for 40 to 50 per cent of seasonal revenue for ski operators.

“We’re not going to a make that up over the next few weeks,” said Nichol.

He said in the 56 years the OSRA has been around, they have never gone to government seeking financial assistance.

“I think given that we spent so much money on preparing for a COVID-19 operating winter and a significant amount of capital outlay was spent to get us to the spot where we could operate in December, that’s going to be a significant expense to get back this year.”

Nichol said the focus has been on getting the resorts open and reinstating regulations that were in place back in December. But he said the shift now will be to have some discussions with the province around what funds are available.

The provincial and federal governments have set aside cash to assist small businesses, but Nichol said resorts are a different beast in that they have such a large amount of staff as a seasonal operation, the ask is a bit more detailed.

As of the end of December 2020, the OSRA, which represents 50 alpine ski hills, has estimated $100 million in lost revenue and between 9,500 and 10,000 jobs furloughed.

Nichol said that doesn’t take into account businesses like restaurants, hotels, sports shops, gas stations and everything else that benefit from having resorts in their area.

As of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, many businesses, including gyms, restaurants and hair salons were able to reopen after the Ontario government lifted the stay-at-home order and replaced it with its colour-coded framework.

Simcoe-Muskoka is in the red zone. Niagara Region is the only location in Ontario that reopened on Tuesday in the grey zone. York Region, Toronto, Peel Region, and the North Bay-Parry Sound Public Health Unit are still under a stay-at-home order until at least Feb. 22.