Sun Peaks stakeholders are adapting to the start of a winter season unlike any other, facing new COVID-19 protocols and restrictions that will greatly impact the resort and community.
On Thursday, Nov. 19, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a number of measures meant to tamp down community spread of COVID-19, after the province faced successive days of record-breaking new cases.
The measures included a provincial order for British Columbians to minimize socializing—which in most cases means seeing only their own household—wear a mask in indoor public and retail spaces and suspend all events and community-based gatherings, including religious services. Indoor group physical activities, such as spin classes, hot yoga, and high intensity interval training (HIIT), are also suspended.
The order is in effect from Nov. 19, 2020 at midnight to Dec. 7, 2020 at midnight.
Henry also sent out a strong recommendation to the public against non-essential travel throughout the province, and specifically called on Vancouverites to “go to local mountains,” in addition to an already standing order against travel to or from the Fraser Valley Health (FVH) or Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) regions. On Wednesday B.C. Premier John Horgan called for all non essential travel to and from the province to cease, cutting off other important markets for the resort.
The situation creates a host of issues for Sun Peaks and other Thompson Okanagan resorts, which are reliant on destination guests, especially in light of international travel restrictions still in effect.
Though the changes are significant, the mountain is prepared and they won’t change much in terms of their day-to-day operations, said Aidan Kelly, chief marketing officer for Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR).
“There was nothing in the orders yesterday, that really changes much of how we were planning to operate,” said Kelly. “It just just means that our visitation is going to drastically change.”
Kelly said the resort operator is encouraging the public to follow the provincial guidelines and offering a full-refund for both ticket sales and accommodation until Dec. 7,the end date of the period covered by the provincial order.
“We’re urging people to respect the recommendations and, and alter your plans accordingly,” said Kelly.
Kelly said SPR has already seen cancellations for the period in question.
“The phones have definitely been ringing in terms of people cancelling and changing [plans],” said Kelly. “But the good thing is that….your first few weeks of opening, are very heavily skewed towards the local market anyway, so not a massive amount of people that were planning ski vacations at this time of year.”
Kelly said the resort has sent a memo to staff, highlighting its refund policy and asking them to encourage the public to follow the provincial health officer’s recommendations.
Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality Mayor (SPMRM) Al Raine said the situation is “tricky” from an enforcement perspective for small municipalities. Bylaw workers, he added, can face threats by people who don’t want to follow the rules.
“You can see across the country and in other countries, that sometimes when people are confronting people about not wearing a mask they, they can get rude or violent,” said Raine.
“But certainly, our instruction to our bylaw people is that if there is ever a physical confrontation, they should back off immediately and call the police.”
Raine said he does encourage the public to contact bylaw if they see a situation, such as a party.
“If they see behavior that threatens community health they should inform the bylaw immediately,” said Raine.
Raine added the municipality will also look into its policy regarding staffing, as some staff have returned to work in the last couple months, after previously working from home.
“I suggest we may have to take another look at that,” he said.
The surge in recent cases have cast a great deal of uncertainty over the season, as SPR local businesses and accommodation providers are staring down the potential of a loss of the important Lower Mainland and Alberta markets over the busy Christmas season.
Kelly said he’s hopeful the next couple weeks will stem the tide of the virus and that the recommendation won’t be extended.
“We’re hopeful that this is a bit of a circuit breaker, and it doesn’t have to extend out through the end of December or anything like that, because then it’s a different kettle of fish that you have to evaluate then.”
Matthias Schmid, owner of McSporties rental and retail, said the prospect of the Lower Mainland and other regions being cut off for the long-term would have a significant impact on local businesses, many of which reported a strong summer season fuelled by domestic travellers after having had to shutter their businesses in March.
“During the summer months Sun Peaks saw a ton of traffic front the Lower Mainland. They were coming to do the VRBOs, they were renting bikes and hiking,” said Schmid. “The Lower Mainland really fed Sun Peaks this summer, so I would say that’s a major artery for us that’s cut off.”
Schmid said the rapidly changing situation has caused significant challenges from a planning perspective, as clients from around B.C. and other provinces face uncertainty about whether or not they will be able to come to the resort.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “That’s probably the most challenging thing I’d say, it’s the lack of sort of being able to plan.”
Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.