New safety protocols in place at Interior bike parks

After working with industry partners to ensure safety protocol complies with provincial standards, Interior B.C. resorts have opened to visitors. Guests need to be aware of new rules to safely use bike parks and trails and how these changes will continue into the winter ski season.

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Interior B.C. resorts such as Sun Peaks, Big White, SilverStar, and Revelstoke have opened for biking and visitation with new industry best practices in place to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Enhanced sanitation procedures along with ongoing modification of operations and services are in place across the board and may continue into the 2020-21 ski season.

Sun Peaks’ and Revelstoke’s downhill bike trails opened late June, while SilverStar and Big White opened the first week of July. Changes included physical distancing in lift lines, riding the chairlift with only those in your social bubble, and limiting the number of season passes and day hiking and biking tickets sold to align with provincial regulations. 

“The message to guests, and this is any kind of travel, is to know before you go,” said Christopher Nicolson, president and chief executive officer of Canada West Ski Areas Association, an organization that works with resorts around Western Canada.

“You’ll notice a lot of attention to physical distancing,” he said. “Fortunately, most outdoor activities have the benefit of fresh air and provide an opportunity for guests to be in an outdoor, active environment.”

Other changes include safety protocol signs throughout the resorts and different ways to purchase tickets. 

“In many cases, you’re seeing advance ticket purchases,” Nicolson said. “This isn’t just ski resorts but most sectors are encouraging guests to book ahead and that allows the guest to understand what the protocols will be based on whatever destination or activity they’re doing.”

The Sun Peaks Bike Park is limiting the number of day tickets sold to bikers and recommends purchasing tickets in advance online. SilverStar did not initially limit the number of day tickets but put a cap in place after their first opening weekend. Revelstoke and Big White are not limiting tickets at this time. 

Changes also apply to the village restaurant and cafe outlets. 

“In restaurants, there are protocols in the spacing of tables,” Nicolson said. “Depending on the area some areas might have assigned times, more grab and go options for food and for beverage.”

According to Nicolson, biking tourism is a significant economic component to the regional tourism industry and creates economic value and jobs. It has created a new summer market and draws people to resort communities and utilizes infrastructure built for skiers.

Biking tourism contributes millions of dollars each year to B.C. tourism revenue, making it an important component of COVID-19 summer tourism recovery in the region. 

An economic impact study of the Sea to Sky corridor released in 2018 by the Mountain Bike Tourism Association (MTBA) and Destination British Columbia showed an increase of more than 100 percent in revenues and employment numbers directly related to mountain biking in that region over the past decade. The same study found that in 2016 there was $70.6 million spent by non-resident mountain bikers in the region, however, no numbers were available for the B.C. Interior. 

While many are still in the fun-in-the-sun mind frame, many resorts are already looking at what changes will be made for the winter.  

The industry right now is looking around the globe,” Nicolson said. “We’re looking and learning from our own operations and we are looking and learning at other operations. The ski industry obviously has a counterpart in Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. So we’re spending a lot of time looking at the operations protocols that they have implemented there and we are sharing back and forth that information.”

Mountain biking, sightseeing, and hiking have also allowed ski areas to start implementing best practices now in preparation and practice for winter. 

“We have learned from those experiences in terms of how to move people safely into areas. load lifts, disembark lifts, and so forth. But what is not the same right now is profitability. There are fewer people and far more expenses in terms of the business model,” he said, adding this challenge is not unique to the ski and bike industry, but to the whole provincial tourism industry. 

“What the summer does though is allow ski areas to implement these policies and try to learn from them and improve the systems. As we move to winter we will be able to advance and hopefully still see a successful year, which we expect to see.”

As guests set out on adventures this summer, they can expect the season will bring differences and new challenges.

“One of the aspects that really helps with that is to call ahead or research online to see what the protocols are so that they’re not surprised when they get to the destination,” Nicolson said. “And that might be pre-purchasing tickets, bringing face coverings depending on what they’re doing. So, you know before you go and research and contact the destination before you get there.”