MTN FIRST TRACKS: IN CONVERSATION WITH STEVE PAMPEL, SKI BIG 3 – BANFF SUNSHINE, LAKE LOUISE, MT NORQUAY

At our ‘First Tracks’ event earlier this week we spoke with Verbier, Val Thorens and the Tirol region about their experiences and plans around opening for this winter season, their hopes and fears for 2021 and how they would measure success in this most unusual of seasons.

Premium MTN members can view those conversations here

After the event we also caught up with Steve Pampel from Ski Big 3 (Banff, Lake Louise, Sunshine) to pose the same questions about the experience of resort openings across their world famous resorts in Canada.

What is the current situation in your area with regard to resorts opening?

SkiBig3, Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt Norquay are open and welcoming guests with fantastic early season conditions.  In fact, we had some of our earliest openings on record.  We knew it would be a different season, however our resorts have been constantly working/communicating with Alberta Health Services to ensure our world-famous ski experience is as uninterrupted as possible.

All resorts and local businesses are operating under increased operational restrictions outlined by Alberta Health Services to ensure the safety of guests, employees and the local community.

With changes to resort operations, here are a few tips to ensure guests have a fantastic experience at the resorts:

Preparing for the Day

  • Please ensure you arrive with your pass or lift ticket in-hand as guest-services are limited.
  • Pre-purchase your SkiBig3 lift tickets through your Tour Operator in advance for best rates and for convenient delivery to your hotel (limit line-ups & touch points at resorts)
  • Pack layers (including extra hot pocket warmers)
  • Each resort has limited bag storage space
  • Bring extra face masks so you can stay safe, warm and dry.
  • Face masks are mandatory indoors, in common outdoor areas at the base where physical distancing is not always possible, within lift lines and while riding on chair lifts & gondolas.
  • While Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise Ski Resort shuttles are still running, consider using your car as a day lodge – there is limited locker space and bag storage at the resorts. 
  • Parking capacity on weekends and holidays may be limited. Arrive early or later in the day for best access. 

What have been the greatest challenges around resort opening?

The ever-changing environment – not know what tomorrow brings?  Flexibility, adaptability and an optimistic approach have been key.  Since the closure of our resorts back in March our resorts have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of our guests, employees and community is paramount upon opening for the 20/21 season.  Knowing there would be spacing restrictions with indoor spaces and transfers and line-ups have been the biggest challenge – and here is an overview of a few safety protocols to ensure we all stay safe:

  • Masks are required while waiting in lines, and must be worn at all times while riding on shuttles
  • Face masks are mandatory indoors, in common outdoor areas at the base where physical distancing is not always possible, within lift lines and while riding on chair lifts & gondolas.
  • Lodge and Tent seating capacity is limited and subject to time restrictions.
  • Each resort has a variety of outdoor seating, shelters and fire pits to rest and warm up.
  • There are a variety of quick grab and go options at the resorts, with plenty of outdoor space to sit down and enjoy your break.
  • Pack a lunch – there are a variety of places in Banff & Lake Louise with great grab and go options.
  • In person dining and table service is suspended at the resorts until further notice.
  • Private lessons are available and limited to household cohorts only
  • Washroom facilities are available.

How are visitors responding to the new experience of skiing this winter?

The majority of visitors have seemed to respond very well to the unofficial motto – Save Our Season.  It is great to see the vibe at the resorts that people are just stoked to be out skiing and doing what they can to stay safe & keep the resorts open.  Yes, there are some changes, but after the effects of the overall pandemic, to be back out skiing is good for the body, mind & soul.  It is strange to not see International guests enjoying our resorts, however we know they will be back and we cannot wait to welcome them – especially the UK skier/rider.

How do you think visitors will respond to the new experience of skiing this winter?

The majority of skiers/boarders realise that changes have to be made – in order to enjoy the ski season.  Banff and Lake Louise continue to enjoy the same amazing terrain, snow and scenery – just getting to these is a little different.  We are still wide-open and enjoying fantastic snow conditions.  With almost 8,000 acres of terrain combined with the 3 resorts there is always plenty of “Room to Roam”.

How are you planning to respond if resorts are forced to close again after Christmas?

Of course we are not planning on this happening as so much work has gone in to ensure the resorts opened for 20/21 season – and stay open.  The resorts have done everything possible to stay open and will continue to adapt to changes – we now ask the guests to do their part.  Follow protocols, adhere to guidelines, stay flexible and enjoy an optimistic approach.  We all want our season to stay open – we all need to work together.  Keep that positive vibe – even if we cannot see the smiles behind the masks we know they’re there.  Distance high five your lifty, server, ski patroller – thank them for all their hard work to keep you out skiing!  

What can the snowsports media and tour operators do to help?

We realise International Travel is still not possible right now, however we want our UK skier/snowboarder friends to know that we cannot wait to welcome you back!  We are still holding out hope that Banff and Lake Louise will be able to welcome UK guests in 2021.  If not, then we know there will be pent up demand for the 2021/22 season.  For those who have booked for the 20/21 season but cannot make it – work with your Tour Operator to postpone bookings later in the season or to 21/22 – do not cancel all together.  For those who are keen to travel to Banff and Lake Louise for the 2021/22 season – book with your Tour Operator early.   We are already on sale and there are some great deals to be had – and after a woeful 2020 we all need something to look forward to and get excited about!!

When do you expect to be able to welcome international customers again?

There is much optimism about the vaccine being administered and there are some saying travel will be a thing by February next year…  We do not know if this will be possible but of course we are all hoping.  Banff and Lake Louise enjoy a long season – well into May and some of our best conditions are in March & April.  Spring skiing is a fantastic time to be in Banff & Lake Louise and we hope to welcome International guests for this period at least.

What are you most looking forward to this winter?

Continuing to enjoy the outdoors in a safe manner – especially when it is safe to do so in groups with family & friends.  Of course we are excited to work with our key International Tour Ops to continue rebooking and booking people for the 21/22 ski season.

How will you define ’success’ for the 2020/21 season?

This is a hard question for sure – however if we can continue to provide an escape for skiers/boarders this season (even if just regional/domestic) then this is a success.