This winter season has been different at Castle Mountain in southern Alberta.
“We are very fortunate and overwhelmingly grateful that we were able to operate this winter,” said Cole Fawcett, sales and marketing manager at Castle Mountain Resort.
Skiers and snowboarders were able to hit the slopes for the last time this season on Sunday.
Fawcett said out of all his years working in the ski industry across the country, this was the most challenging.
But, the rewards were also plentiful.
“Overwhelmingly positive feedback from guests,” he said. “The gratitude that we have received from them for remaining in operation and helping them safely enjoy a day on the slopes with minimal disruption to what they’re accustomed to.”
This year, people were asked to buy passes online beforehand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks were required outside in areas where social distancing wasn’t possible. The day lodge and food services were closed, so people were encouraged to bring their own food.
Liam Hernberg is a long-time snowboarder who also works at Castle Mountain Resort.
“It felt busy but it was a good season all around,” he said.
His partner, Taylor Webbink, is a lifetime skier. This year, she decided to try snowboarding.
“It’s been tons of fun to get outside and get out of the house,” Webbink said.
The new faces weren’t just on the hill.
Renee Stehouwer works in guest services at Castle Mountain Resort. She was on her way to becoming a snowbird.
“Then [the pandemic] hit, so decided to embrace a Canadian winter and it’s been fantastic,” Stehouwer said.
Stehouwer has nothing but good things to say about working at the resort, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
“I thought [the season] was fantastic. They say it’s even better when it’s a non-COVID year but I wouldn’t know the difference.”
Stehouwer said the most difficult part of the job was communicating with various layers of PPE.
“Having to talk through a mask, the other person talking through a mask and the plexiglass in between, it was extremely challenging,” Stehouwer said.
Fawcett said since its opening in late November, Castle Mountain Resort has not had a recorded case of COVID-19. He credits this to his staff.
“They took an informal oath, if you will, to be safe and be healthy to the lead up to and through the season,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier that our staff were able to do that for us.”
Looking ahead to next season, there are some changes from this year that might carry over.
“Continue having people buy online in advance, of course, is valuable for us to understand what the days ahead will look like but it’s also valuable for the guest too,” said Fawcett.
Those new faces might carry over to next year as well.
“It’s making us think twice about being snowbirds and actually staying in Canada for the winters here on in and working at a ski resort,” said Stehouwer with a laugh.
With the 2020-21 season coming to a close, it’s mixed emotions at the mountain.
“I’m always bummed. It’s always kind of sad to end the season but I’m kind of ready for summer,” said Hernberg.
It is a sentiment that Fawcett is used to hearing around this time.
“The old adage in the ski industry is you generally run out of skiers before you run out of snow, as people mosey onto spring activities and spring cleaning,” Fawcett said.