Bitter cold enveloping much of Canada has reduced the number of skiers on the slopes during the key Christmas holiday season, blunting operator optimism after a promising start linked to a good snow base and a weak Canadian dollar. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Deep freeze stalls ski hill operations across Canada after promising start

CALGARY — Bitter cold enveloping much of Canada has reduced the number of skiers on the slopes during the key Christmas holiday season, blunting industry optimism boosted by good early snow conditions and strong foreign visitor interest due to the weak Canadian dollar.

As Environment Canada issued extreme cold alerts for parts of B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, the Mont Orford ski area east of Montreal announced it would close for the day on Thursday to ensure guest safety. The cold snap is expected to last all weekend.

At Mont Tremblant to the north of Montreal, the slopes were active with vacation package buyers, many from the United States, according to Annique Aird, vice-president of sales and marketing.

“It turned cold here the last few days which is making it more challenging but people are dressing well and still skiing. The upside is the really blue sky days,” she said.

She conceded the resort is seeing fewer day visitors because of the low temperatures.

The picture was less optimistic at Mount St. Louis Moonstone, about 145 kilometres north of Toronto, which has no onsite accommodation and relies on day skiers to fill its slopes, with about 30 per cent of its annual visits during the Christmas season.

“The 27th, 28th and 29th should be the busiest days of the Christmas holidays and our attendance so far has been about half of what we normally have,” said general manager Robert Huter. He added the cold means skiers are missing out on ”unbelievable snow conditions for this time of year.”

In most ski regions in the West, temperatures were also in the minus 20s C.

Some hills were changing the way they offer services such as ski lessons, with more frequent breaks to warm up, because of the cold but Christopher Nicolson, CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, said he hadn’t heard of any closings.

He said people who pre-booked their vacations for the holidays will come anyway but the cold will discourage local skiers.

“I think overall the industry is quite optimistic we’re going to have a good year,” he said, pointing out the low value of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. greenback is diverting more international guests to Canada and keeping Canadians at home.

The dollar is trading at around 80 cents US, up from about 74 cents US a year ago. It was at par about five years ago.

The exchange rate is giving Canada a big advantage over U.S. resorts, and an early shortage of snow in the western U.S. is exaggerating the trend, said Mike Colbourn, president of SnoCountry.com, an American site that tracks snow conditions at resorts throughout North America.

“When you’re planning your destination ski vacation, and you’re looking east and you’re looking west, it’s a compelling argument to go to these world-class resorts (in Canada) if you’re watching your dollars,” he said.

He said many U.S. resorts are offering discounts to better compete with their Canadian rivals.

Yves Juneau, CEO of the Quebec Ski Areas Association, said the number of U.S. visitors to Quebec ski resorts last year rose 32 per cent to 242,000, the highest in at least three seasons, and the trend is continuing this year.

He said the cold weather is hurting Quebec hills, with some reporting as much as 80 per cent fewer skiers than normal.

Some ski resorts have also been closing early or cutting back on night skiing under an arrangement with Hydro Quebec to reduce electricity usage during times of high demand, a situation also linked to the extreme cold weather.

“It’s really significant. For us, the Christmas season is a portion of the year we can’t miss,” said Juneau. “Fortunately, we had a strong season start so that gave us a bit of a cushion.”

The cold weather isn’t affecting all of Canada’s major ski resorts.

At Whistler-Blackcomb, 120 kilometres north of Vancouver, the forecast Friday was for a high of minus 8 C, with 15 centimetres of new snow.

“We’re getting hammered with snow right now and have seen 30 centimetres in two days,” said spokesman Marc Riddell. “Around 96- to 97-per cent of our terrain is open.”

He said snow conditions allowed the resort to open a week early this year but wouldn’t comment on attendance.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

In its place is employment insurance, which the government says the majority of people will go on

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Sept. 27

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4:00… Continue reading

WE Charity controversy prompts examination of group’s overseas footprint

On Sept. 9, WE Charity said it would wind down its Canadian operations

Two people dead after plane flying from Rocky Mountain House crashes

The Transportation Safety Board will be investigating

Annual Chili Cook Off raises money for Red Deer Hospice Society

The key to making a great chili is preparing the sauce first,… Continue reading

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

Canadian ski resorts wrestle with pandemic-vs.-profit dilemma as COVID-19 persists

CALGARY — Canadian ski resort operators planning for a season that begins… Continue reading

Tenille Townes, Dean Brody and Brett Kissel top nominees at tonight’s CCMA Awards

OTTAWA — Tenille Townes could be lined up for some major wins… Continue reading

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

TERRACE, B.C. — Health care in the era of COVID-19 took centre… Continue reading

Watchdog to investigate fatal Winnipeg crash that sent two kids to hospital

Winnipeg police say a woman has died and five others — including… Continue reading

The ‘relentless underdog’: Green Leader Sonia Furstenau ready for uphill battle

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau was driving Monday when she turned on the… Continue reading

Mi’kmaq power, inside and beyond Ottawa, stronger than in past fishery battles

HALIFAX — When Jaime Battiste was in his early 20s, cable news… Continue reading

Author says acquittal on child pornography charges allows him to ‘breathe again’

‘It’s completely abhorrent to be accused without proof’

Montreal demonstrators demand climate justice a year after Greta Thunberg speech

MONTREAL — Demonstrators gathered in downtown Montreal on Saturday to protest planetary… Continue reading

Most Read