Big White is making preparations for the 2020-21 ski season

Big White preps for skiing

It may not feel like it, but winter isn't that far away.

In Kelowna, winter has always meant skiing at Big White.

COVID-19, however, has turned everything upside down and forced ski hills across the country to close down last season as spring arrived. Big White shut down March 16, 2020 and went from a record-setting pace to no income in record time.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding school openings and sporting events, senior vice president of Big White Ski Resort, Michael J Ballingall tells Castanet they are getting ready for a return to the slopes.

"We've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars we've put in touchless taps, we've put in sliding doors to all of our buildings. We've got a really neat laser foot measuring system for our rental department so you don't have to touch anyone's feet."  

Ballingall says they have also implemented plans for people to ski in their own bubbles. Riders will be able to go on the lifts with just their group. "If you're a single and you don't want to ride with anyone else, no problem at all. People ask us about physical separation, well you've got a pair of skis or a snowboard on. We'll be out there building the corrals."

Ballingall says Big White can move up to 24,000 people up the hill an hour, allowing skiers and snowboarders to spread out.

Indoors, day lodges and cafeterias will be spread out and Ballingall says they have a touchless ticketing system so people can go right from their vehicles to the lift. "We've been watching what has been going on in New Zealand and Australia and we're taking best practices from them."

Speaking of New Zealand and Australia, which is where many Big White employees have come from in the past, that will be changing this season as well.

"We're hoping that there is going to be a lot of people living in Kelowna looking for jobs. We're getting a lot of inquiries from the prairies.

Ballingall says they have noticed some university students are choosing to defer the school year instead of taking online courses this coming year. "They don't want to stay at home and do university on the internet they want to get out of the house. That seems to be a new source of employee that we haven't been able to tap into in the past."

Ballingall is hopeful that between students and those trying to top up their employment and locals who just want to have some fun, they will be fully staffed for the 2020-21 ski season, assuming there is one.

"We're being very, very creative."

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