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What to expect and how to make the most of your early season skiing this year.

There were 20cm of fresh snow at Sunshine Village today and my daughter didn’t mention a thing about Covid protocols when she debriefed a friend afterwards. For adults though, there are a few new considerations when you go skiing this year...


First off, let’s be thankful we live somewhere that the lifts are spinning right now and somewhere that we don’t need to book appointments to use our season passes. There are a lot of skiers around the world jealous of us right now. 

Here are a few things we’ve learned so far to help you plan your ski day.

Corrals and lines. If you’ve ever felt like cattle slowing sliding through ticket lines and lift lines, it’s a bit worse now I’m afraid. There are corrals set up for everything. It seems that the ski hills have spent all summer planning how to move people around the mountain with minimal interaction and maximum spacing. 

 

It starts as you leave the parking lot: tickets in this corral, lifts this way, guest services in this line. It gets worse in the day lodges and basically anywhere you remember it being slightly busy in the past. You have to give the resorts credit though for trying their best to provide a safe skiing experience. Hopefully, all these efforts will mean we can ski the entire season without any shutdowns. Remember last spring? I’m happy to line up if it means the hills can stay open!


Masks. You need face coverings in any lineups, on all lifts and in all buildings at a minimum. For a lot of people that’s pretty easy, just keep your buff or balaclava on as many skiers do anyhow. For those with glasses that fog or who just aren’t comfortable with ski masks, I’d recommend dialling your system in at home before going to the mountain. There are a few options to consider. 

There’s the standard mask you’d wear to the grocery store but most skiers will appreciate getting a little bit of warmth from their face covering as well. Buff style neck tubes work really well for most people. If you have fogging issues, you can find ski masks that are looser below your mouth and don’t force the hot air up to your goggles (like the Armada Harken Balaclava). 

I’m keen to try the integrated face mask on the Armada Rotor Midlayer next time to eliminate the one extra piece of gear. An old-fashioned scarf would work great, too. Whatever you choose, embrace it. It can either be a constant annoyance or a comfortable piece of clothing.

 

Eating and Warming Up. This seems like the biggest issue when it’s busy. Norquay has a pretty normal cafeteria and it’s usual restaurant upstairs. On the busiest days, you’ll likely notice the diminished seating though. 

At Sunshine Village, there are pretty major changes to navigate. The main lodge has a slightly pared-down cafeteria menu and the seating is spread out and has even taken over the upper restaurant. It won’t be enough for the lunch rush on a weekend though. Plan accordingly. Also, note that there is a maximum of six people allowed to sit together.

To help matters, Sunshine is constructing huge heated tents beside the day lodge and Goat’s Eye Gardens to expand seating capabilities. Along with these tents, they’ve added additional bathroom portable buildings. They’ve also opened up part of the old Gondola building in the village, called the Sliver, for brown bag lunching and warming up.

 

You can not take any bags or backpacks into the day lodge. If you want to eat food you’ve brought in the Sliver or tents, be prepared to leave your bags on racks outside - so plan for freezing temperatures by using insulated bags/coolers to keep food edible. Also, know that there is no running water in these facilities, so bring your own in a thermos.

At Lake Louise, it sounds like staff is seating people in their lodges (instead of the usual “squeeze in where you can”). Brown baggers in the old lodge and the usual cafeteria fare on the new side. 

Our recommendation is to embrace the winter picnic at Sunshine Village by hauling coolers and thermoses up the gondola and go big with the tailgating at Lake Louise and Norquay. If you plan all your own necessities nothing will get in the way of the fun. 

 

Staff. During your day you will encounter a lot of staff members. There are staff helping you find seats, then cleaning them afterwards. There are staff waiting to take your name and number for possible contact tracing. There are staff asking you if you have Covid symptoms as they greet you.

Let’s all remember that these staff members have not created the pandemic and certainly don’t want to be the ones enforcing Alberta Health recommendations. Let’s treat them well, even if they can’t see our smiles.

 

The snow and the beautiful Rocky Mountains have not changed at all, thankfully! So let’s be grateful. It’s a fantastic start to the season with historic early openings and lots of terrain available already. Louise especially has a surprising amount open, including Paradise Bowl, Crow Bowl, Grizzly Bowl and seven lifts.

At Sunshine Village today, we skied boot-top powder on five different chairlifts. “It’s only Nov. 13,” I had to keep reminding myself. Hallelujah! I’ll deal with extra signs, lines, and precautions happily to get more of that!

Colin Puskas. Sunshine Village, but not a current shot.

See you out there!

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