By Andrew Mitchell
Thanks to recent snowstorms and a cold snap that allowed for
around the clock snowmaking, Ontario’s biggest ski resort managed to open 12
out of 35 runs by Wednesday, Jan. 17 — a vast improvement over the five
runs open last weekend.
All five terrain parks remain closed, however, and the entire
resort is being run by a skeleton staff until things improve.
On Jan. 6 Blue Mountain, of which Intrawest is a major
shareholder, announced plans to lay off 1,300 workers and close the resort. The
resort employs approximately 1,850 staff annually, including hotel and retail
Some of those employees were rehired after a snowstorm hit the
region this week, but with just one-third of runs open and the village all but
empty the majority remain out of work.
To compensate season pass holders, Blue Mountain has offered
free skiing at six Intrawest resorts through Feb. 2, including
Whistler-Blackcomb, Mont Tremblant, Panorama, Stratton, Copper Mountain and
Southern Ontario has been reporting record temperatures through
December and early January, with people wearing T-shirts in Toronto on
Christmas Day. As a result, occupancy rates at Blue Mountain during the
holidays were just 40 per cent.
While colder temperatures have made it possible for most
Ontario resorts to make snow, a check of resorts reveals snow depths between 20
and 40 centimetres, and closed runs and lifts.
Cross-country ski areas are also partially open, some operating
with a base of just four centimetres in places — only enough because
of the recent cold snap.
Quebec is better off than Ontario, but most resorts are
operating at a diminished capacity. At the recent Freestyle World Cup at Mont
Gabriel it rained through the moguls and aerials competitions.
It’s unknown what impact the mild winter will have on the
bottom line for ski area operators, but many resorts make over half of annual
revenues through December and January.
As well as snow resorts, tourism industries like snowmobiling and ice fishing have also been hard hit. It’s estimated that winter recreation and tourism contributes over $3 billion a year to Quebec.