Still lots of question marks as area ski resorts ramp up for opening day

John Ball has quite the to-do list on his hands.

The General Manager of Snow Valley Ski resort said it’s fantastic the Ontario government is going to allow resorts to open for downhill skiing. Most resorts will be able to start their season Feb. 16 including those in Simcoe Muskoka.

Ball said grooming needs to be done and the lifts need to be fired up. He also has to figure out how many staff he will need, and those decisions won’t come until health officials decide what colour category Simcoe-Muskoka will be placed in, based on COVID-19 numbers.

“So that when the province decides on some time before Feb. 16 whether we are in green, yellow, orange, red or grey, that will determine what we will be able to offer,” Ball explains.

Once he has the colour, Ball will know if the lodge can open, if food can be served and how many employees he will need to operate the business.

When the pandemic’s first wave struck in late winter, Ontario ski resorts lost March Break in 2020, and they had to sacrifice the lucrative holiday season when the Ford government imposed a lockdown on Dec. 26 during COVID’S second wave.

“We are looking at probably a 70 per cent decline in revenue,” said Ball, using figures from Christmas through to now.

The resort refunded all lesson program participants and season pass holders.

Even when Ball finds out from the health unit what colour Simcoe-Muskoka will be in, that doesn’t mean everybody who can come back to work will.

“We also have many staff that when they were furloughed on Dec. 26 had to feed their families and pay the rent, so they secured other employment,” notes Ball.

“We have people who were seasonal employees with Snow Valley for many, many years, and they have gone out and found other employment, and are not returning this year and may not return in future years.”

The association that represents the province’s ski resorts has floated the idea of seeking financial assistance from the Ontario government.

Ball said while there is money from the provincial and federal governments for small businesses, most ski resorts are excluded from 90 per cent of the funding models.

“We have more than 99 employees in the winter months,” explains Ball.

“If, for example, we look at year-round employees, we would be fitting into that small to medium-sized business, but because we do a have a peak of over 99 employees, that makes us ineligible for most, if not all provincial funding models.”

Ball is energized about finally being able to give skiers what they have been itching for.

“To be able to open and provide a safe environment for staff and guests is fantastic.”