April 22nd, 2024

Skiing or golf? Spring break choices follow Canada’s weird winter

By Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press on March 2, 2024.

As spring break nears, resorts across Canada are working to cover up green patches and make their terrain skiable enough to entice their usual holiday visitors. A skier walks down a patchy ski slope in Whistler, B.C., Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

VANCOUVER – Bin Xie’s children typically spend spring break at ski camps but, after unseasonably warm and unpredictable weather upended much of this year’s ski season, his family decided to rent an RV to go camping in British Columbia’s Interior instead.

Xie, from Vancouver, is likely not alone. In Ontario, some golf courses are opening while nearby ski hills are shut. Across Canada, many of the ski resorts that are open have been working to cover up green patches and make their terrain skiable enough to entice their usual holiday visitors.

Among them is Mont Tremblant in Quebec. The province has one of the earliest spring breaks in Canada, with many students beginning their holiday Friday.

Jean-Francois Gour, communications director for Station Mont Tremblant, said conditions have been variable at the resort all year. This, he said, is illustrated by the fact that temperatures reached 9 C Wednesday before falling to -14 C the next day.

“We’ve been through a real cocktail of winter weather,” he said in an interview.

Gour said there had been a dip in hotel and lift tickets bookings, though he could not provide exact numbers.

The resort, he said, is still hoping for an increase in last-minute reservations in March, when the resort typically sees an influx of visitors. He said it is working hard to ensure as many runs as possible remain open for skiers.

“Snow coverage is pretty good,” he said, noting the mountain has been able to use snow-making machines to produce the same amount of snow as it had in previous seasons.

Tremblant will have all its lifts running and is aiming to have up to 80 per cent of its terrain open for spring break skiers, Gour added.

“We’ll be seeing if the weather is really warmer than average and we will try to prioritize the main trails on the mountain to make sure that we can keep all lifts open in the next few weeks.”

Daniel Scott, a professor at the University of Waterloo who studies climate change and tourism, said it has been one of the “weirdest” ski seasons in recent history across the country.

“For ski areas to struggle to provide skiable conditions for March break hasn’t happened very often,” Scott said in an interview.

Resorts, specifically in Quebec and Ontario, would sometimes struggle to open for Christmas, but they typically would be able to make snow in January and February to be skiable through March, he said.

When one mountainous region is experiencing poor ski conditions, usually others would fare better, he added. That has not been the case this year.

“It’s been a strange winter, coast to coast across North America, U.S. and Canada,” Scott said. “This has been an anomaly that I don’t recall seeing, certainly in the last 20 years of studying the ski industry.”

He said this is illustrated by the fact his local Ontario ski hills Chicoppe and Glen Eden remained closed this week despite dropping temperatures, after thunderstorms and high temperatures thwarted their ability to make enough snow.

Meanwhile, GolfNorth Properties has advertised that its nearby courses will be opening this weekend as temperatures are forecast to reach up to 17 C.

“That has never happened before,” Scott said. “It might be a bit of a PR stunt, but nonetheless, the fact they can open and will probably be open for March break and kids could be golfing instead of skiing – that’s not winter, (how) most people remember them.”

Across the country in Whistler, B.C., skiers have been enjoying 110 centimetres of fresh powder.

The snowfall was a big improvement in the dirt-covered runs skiers have dealt with on the lower levels of the resort this season.

Dane Gergovich, a spokesman for Whistler-Blackcomb, said the resort was grateful it came ahead of the March break, a “peak period” for the resort.

“We do see a lot of families and destination travellers, so we expect that to remain the same, especially with these favourable weather events that we’ve been getting,” Gergovich said in an interview.

“Our hope (is) that we’ll see increased numbers as we have historically.”

He said by this point in the season, 100 per cent of the mountain’s terrain would usually be open.

“Mother Nature has certainly presented us with challenges this season. To date, even with all the snow, we’re still behind in terrain offerings compared to a typical season,” he said.

The resort usually stops making snow by this point in the season, he said.

“But we have extended it given the challenges we’ve had so that we can work fast to gain back much of the terrain that we lost due to the unseasonable temperatures and rain events.”

He said the resort does not publicize ticket sale numbers, and deferred to Tourism Whistler, which oversees resort visitation.

Tourism Whistler declined an interview, but said in an email that it has a “wide variety of weather-independent activities and experiences available, so even when the weather conditions aren’t ideal, we still have the ability to deliver a great guest experience.”

Vancouver resident Xie said his kids, who are aged nine and six, usually ski at Whistler or Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver over their spring break.

Despite a recent dumping of new powder at both mountains, he said his family won’t be changing their camping plans.

“Kids can always find fun, (even) if it’s not skiing,” he said.

“I don’t regret not having a ski vacation. I am looking forward to the RV trip.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 2, 2024.

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