Resort navigates unprecedented year

 | January 18, 2021

Revenues down, but visits relatively steady as locals hit the slopes

File photo

Two months into the winter ski season, Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) has seen relatively steady visitor numbers but decreases in other areas. 

Aidan Kelly, chief marketing officer for SPR, said they were hopeful for a season similar to the summer, but restrictions and recommendations announced Nov. 19, and then extended to Feb. 5,  have had a substantial impact.

He explained the resort’s food and beverage department has been particularly hard hit, as the public is listening to messaging calling on people to avoid spending time indoors in public spaces. 

“We’re seeing a lot more of an uptick in people that are just bringing their own lunches, having lunches in their cars and that kind of thing,” said Kelly.  

In addition, SPR has made a number of big-ticket purchases with the goal of improving safety on the mountain. These include the plexiglass dividers seen in the various day lodges, as well as the large tents that can be seen at Masa’s Bar & Grill and the Annex Food & Drink.  

An entirely new signage program highlighting COVID-safety protocol was developed. Signs were offered to local businesses in order to promote a consistency of messaging, said Kelly. 

The resort also expedited a pre-existing plan to purchase and install RFID scanners for the resort’s lifts. Kelly said the system is working well and that it’s cutting down on face-to-face contact. 

He said the cost of the updates around the resort are into the seven figures. 

“There’s still a lot of interaction, it’s just not as up close and personal as it used to be,” he said.  

Kelly added one trend that’s been apparent this season is that season pass holders are spending a lot more time on the mountain. 

This, he said, is largely to do with the fact that so many of the things that would typically draw people away, such as sporting events for youth, are now cancelled. 

“I would say that the revenues are down more than the visitation is,” he said. “The utilization [rate] for seasons passes is significantly up.”  

Kelly credited resort staff for going the extra mile to ensure the public can ride during this strange year.

He said year-round staff recognized early on the need to buy in to the new rules, as not doing so would put the entire season in jeopardy. 

Moreover, Kelly credited seasonal staff with stepping up to the plate in a major way.

“I believe we have our strongest seasonal staff contingent in my seven years here at Sun Peaks,” said Kelly. “They just seem like a really positive crew who are carrying out their duties with a pretty high level of excellence under really tough circumstances.”  

Kelly added one of the byproducts of the COVID-19 crisis is that the resort hasn’t been able to recognize staff  in the same way as the past.

Monthly staff dinners—which were the norm in pre-COVID times (and certainly appreciated by workers in need of a hearty meal)—can no longer be accomodated, so the resort has had to adapt on this front as well. 

It’s now offering a series of breakfast meals, where workers are invited to eat with the people they work with. 

Management has also been bringing some well-deserved treats to workers while on shift.

 “As a management team, we’re getting boots on the ground,” said Kelly. “Rather than having a big staff dinner, we’ll go for a visit and bring some treats along, just to see how [things are] going and get some feedback from them.”