On Monday, December 21st, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that starting on Saturday, December 26th, the entire province will be entering into lockdown, closing all non-essential businesses, dining, gatherings of any size, and ski resorts. The announcement comes after cases have hit all-time highs in the province, and ICU capacities at many hospitals have reached their peak.
The announcement of the closure of ski hills in the province came as a surprise to both skiers and resorts alike. Until the announcement, ski resorts were given no prior knowledge about the closures that would go into effect five days after the announcement.
In a statement from Blue Mountain, which is a member of the Ikon Pass and largest hill in the province, President Dan Skelton addresses the community saying, “Blue Mountain Resort will suspend all ski operations starting the morning of Saturday, December 26, to comply with the province-wide shutdown order recently issued. We will begin ramping down Resort and most Village operations, and by 12:01 AM on December 26, all lift operations will be closed. We are working to understand and implement requirements that apply to other Resort operations.” By this time, they will have been only thirteen days into their season.
Why are Ski Hills Being Shut Down?
Many people have said with proper safety precautions in place, such as social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and reduced capacity in indoor lodging facilities, skiing is a very low-risk sport when it comes to spreading COVID-19. Yet, the province’s decision says otherwise. Although Ontario is not the first region to put their season on pause this year (take France as an example), they are the first area in North America to do so. Although not confirmed by the province, two factors are surrounding their closure.
The first and most apparent is that there is still a risk of spreading COVID-19. Some people will always break the rules by pulling their face masks down and not properly social distancing. Why should ski hills get a pass on staying open when other small businesses can’t?
The other reason, which seems to be coming up in discussions more and more, is unique to Ontario. The main ski area in the province, Collingwood, Ontario, is located two hours north of Toronto and is home to two public ski hills and six private ski clubs, most notably Blue Mountain. With all of these ski resorts running in the winter, the hospital in Collingwood will typically see an increase in emergency visits due to ski-related injuries during the winter, which cannot be dealt with during the pandemic. The hospital there is already almost at max capacity. The doctors, nurses, and staff are already overworked, meaning that keeping the ski hills open will put too much pressure on the hospital.
What Could This Mean for Other Provinces:
Ontario is the first province in Canada to announce ski resorts’ closure amongst the new surge of cases. It will be interesting to see if other provinces decide to follow Ontario by example. Last week, the province of Quebec stated that it would also be going into lockdown starting December 26th. However, they acknowledged skiing’s importance for mental and physical health and decided to allow them to remain open.
According to Canada’s Public Health Agency, Ontario is at 16.9 cases per 100,000 residents, meaning they remain lower than the other major ski provinces of Alberta and Quebec at 33.3 and 23.7 per 100,000 residents, respectively. British Columbia, home to some of the best skiing globally, is currently at 12.7 cases per 100,000, or just slightly behind Ontario’s figures. If these numbers continue to rise, other provinces may be forced to do what Ontario has done, shutting down the ski industries in these provinces, which are much greater than those in Ontario.
Petition for Change:
A change.org petition has already been circulating social media, calling for the government to reopen ski hills. In only 24 hours, the petition has already hit its goal, receiving just over 35,000 signatures. Although many people seem to be interested in keeping the ski hills open, the odds of this changing any time soon are very slim.
Until COVID-19 cases start to decline in the province, ski hills will remain closed. Although they are only saying the lockdown will last a month, with Christmas around the corner and people still getting together, it could be much longer until people start to hit the slopes again in Ontario.