Local skiers are a silver lining in a drastically restricted COVID-19 ski season | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Local skiers are a silver lining in a drastically restricted COVID-19 ski season

Big White Ski Resort Vice President Michael Ballingall says this year's COVID-19 restrctions have opened up the region's resorts and their amenities for local skiers to enjoy as destination skier visits plummet due to the pandemic.
Image Credit: Big White webcam
January 22, 2021 - 7:30 AM

The Thompson-Okanagan’s big ski resorts knew they would have a tough time of it this year with COVID-19 travel restrictions cutting deeply into their markets.

However, local support has gone a long way to keep the ski hills’ lights on until better days prevail.

Big White Ski Resort Senior Vice-President Michael Ballingall says local skiers are the foundation of his ski resort’s success, and one of COVID-19’s silver linings is an opportunity of a lifetime for locals to experience the resort.

“We’ve cancelled every booking beyond 150 km of the resort from mid-December to Feb. 6. That’s over $6 million in business,” Ballingall says. “There’s never been a better opportunity for local skiers to enjoy the resort. The best accommodations, and an uncrowded hill are theirs this year.”

He says no one can come from anywhere else, so locals have lots of choice, and at drastically reduced prices.

“There’s no way they would be able to get accommodation in a Stonegate or Stonebridge unit, or at Sundance, the Explorer, or Bullet Creek cabins. All those accommodations would be sold out to Australians and New Zealanders way back in May in a normal year. They are never available at Christmas, New Year's, or in January, and now locals literally have the pick of any accommodation on the mountain,” Ballingall says.

A busy day at the resort is 10,000 skier visits, but today Ballingall says there are only 2,000 skiers on the mountain.

He says the resort always relied on the local market and local season pass members, who have also been great ambassadors, helping to bring in guests and mingling with and encouraging national and international guests to visit.

“That’s not happening anymore. Everyone is sticking to their own bubble. Last year at this time we were at 94 per cent occupancy, today we are at 11 per cent,” Ballingall says.

At Kamloops's Sun Peaks Resort, spokesperson Megan Nelson says the resort had one of its strongest openings in recent memory with the lifts turning on all three mountains from Nov. 21. The resort is seeing fantastic conditions this year, even with the warmth and lack of snow experienced on the valley floors so far this year.

Sun Peaks has focussed heavily on the Kamloops market this year and is seeing strong numbers from locals, including increased usage from season’s pass holders.

“We are also seeing more locals experiencing activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and even dog sledding,” Nelson said in an email.

She says the resort has worked to provide specials to local guests. They can be found on the resort’s winter deals page.

Vernon’s Silver Star communications manager Chantelle Deacon said in an email today, Jan. 20, the resort is seeing great ski conditions with an alpine base of 160 cm.

She says there has been an increase in local traffic due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“We are seeing our pass holders visit more frequently than they have in the past,” Deacon said.

She said guests have expressed appreciation for the safe environment, lots of space and quiet runs, as well as the organized, socially-distanced lift lines.

“We look forward to the day we can all come together again on the slopes. We miss our thousands of guests from all over the world,” she said.

Further south in the Okanagan, Apex Ski Resort general manager James Shalman says the resort’s conditions have been excellent so far this year, with a consolidated snowpack of 120 cm “that skis like 150 cm,” due to the type of snow and weather conditions to date.

He says the resort has seen an increase in local visitors.

“People aren’t travelling due to COVID-19, they aren’t taking winter vacations, but they still want to recreate,” Shalman says.

Like Big White, destination visits are down drastically, but he says locals “are doing a great job of supporting us and making up for that loss.”

Shalman says the resort’s other amenities, including the skating adventure loop and outdoor hockey rink are also seeing strong use from people from all over the valley.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to tips@infonews.ca and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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