PAKENHAM – While expecting to be part of the living with COVID solution, ski hills like Mount Pakenham are no struggling after being added to the lockdown at what is normally the peak of the revenue season for the industry.

The family-run operation had been busy making snow, opening-up the operation and getting ready for the holiday season. Then they were told by the Ontario government, they would not be allowed to open over the vitally important Christmas season.

“There was no consultation or real explanation,” Mount Pakenham Ski Resort marketing manager Julie Burns said in a recent interview.

Burns is a third-generation member of the Clifford family which has owned the resort since the 1980s. The ski hill itself was established in 1968.

Burns says the resort was forced to lay off around 250 staff on Christmas Eve after the lockdown announcement was made. Mount Pakenham is part of a group of Ontario downhill ski hill operators lobbying against the government’s decision. Burns says Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America that has closed downhill ski hills.

Ski hill operators say they can operate safely. “Thousands of Ontarians rely on snow sports over the winter for employment, their physical health and mental health,” said a message posted on saveourskiing.ca, a website devoted to the lobbying effort.

The government says the reason for the shutdown, in part, is due to the government’s fear of inter-regional travel during the lockdown. Meanwhile, Quebec has not closed ski hills down.

The hill did open in December with COVID-19 protocols including signs, restricting access to bubbles on the lifts and restricting the lodge.  The hill added 22 outdoor washrooms and an outdoor barbecue. Contact information was collected. They were open for nine days.

“We are tirelessly working in cooperation with our Public Health Unit, local MPPs, as well as the Honorable Lisa McLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture to request permission to resume operations immediately,” the ski hill released in a statement Saturday (Jan. 2). “We are committed to reopening our outdoor amenities ASAP with all mandated safety restrictions and protocols in place.”

Of course, the closure has season pass holders concerned.

“While we are disappointed, we remain optimistic our season passholders will have ample opportunity for skiing and snowboarding,” Burns said. “During the closure, our snowmaking team will continue expanding our terrain for reopening. We hope to resume operations as soon as possible. Upon resuming activities, we will be prioritizing our season passholders and those who have lesson credits in their Mount Pakenham accounts.”

The ski hill will not be selling season passes upon reopening, daily lift ticket rates will be subject to change and lesson availability will be offered first to those with lesson credits.

“Once we know the true extent of our closure, we will reach out to all our current passholders regarding compensation for the weeks of closure,” Burns said. “Thank you for riding this out with us, we appreciate your encouragement and support more than ever.”