After a suspicious fire destroyed and rendered unusable Kimberley Alpine Resort’s Northstar Quad chairlift the night the resort opened for the season, it became clear that this was not going to be the winter Tourism Kimberley was looking forward to.
The subsequent increase in restrictions due to the Omicron variant causing COVID-19 cases to spike served as another blow to the tourism industry here in Kimberley.
In an interview with the Kimberley Bulletin on Tuesday, Jan. 4, TK president John Hamilton said the group was expecting this winter to be “the best season ever,” with advanced bookings coming through in December filling spots into March 31.
“This was — it’s not a knockout punch but one that we would rather not have had. So it’s sort of a one-two with what happened on the ski chair and with this new variant.”
Hamilton said that they had a brainstorming session on mitigating the impacts of the latest issues at the TK board meeting on Tuesday. While none of the ideas discussed had been fully synthesized yet, he will be reporting back to the marketing committee on Friday, hopefully with more concrete ideas.
“The big takeaway I guess is, our research suggests that people when they’re going for a skiing vacation maybe ski for two and a half hours a day, but they do lots of other things there, and so we really, really need to market the Kimberley experience,” he explained. “All the trails, cross country, the music and everything else, so that’s what we’re focusing on — to define what the Kimberley adventure should be.
What complicates this further is the rapidly spiking COVID case count due to the Omicron variant and the need to keep people safe. For example, they discussed running a shuttle service to RCR’s Fernie Alpine Resort, but that isn’t possible due to current health mandates.
There is a lot of uncertainty impacting the situation, including if COVID restrictions will ease or increase, as well as how long the chailift will be down. The resort has said that the timeline for that is likely to be measured in months, not weeks. Until it is fixed, guests are required to hike to the backside, which takes 20 to 40 minutes.
Because this is difficult for some guests, including the elderly and families with young children, the resort has been working around the clock to come up with solutions, such as having cats brought in from other resorts to shuttle people up to the top.
While seating in these machines is limited, it’s something, and it reflects the need for creative solutions to combat this extraordinary problem.
“What they’ve done with the snow cats is amazing,” said Mayor Don McCormick. “RCR have done an amazing job at redefining the experience and as a result of that we just need to get that word out so that people know that it’s a great place to come regardless of whether the quad’s working or not.”
It’s still too early to have a clear picture of the impact this will have on accommodators in Kimberley, but Hamilton said that TK is thinking there’s been a roughly 40-to-50-per-cent loss in bookings.
“We were able to retain a lot of bookings because people have a 30-day cancellation window so once you’re in that you’re pretty much committed,” he said. “We’re really going to discover what’s going to happen in February, March with whatever happens on the ski lift.”
January and February are typically much less robust with visitors in the region, so it’s a matter of waiting to see how just how much the local accomodators and the economy are impacted, while doing everything possible to work through the situation.
While it is possible to quantify the loss in revenue based on percentages of reduction in hotel bookings, because the number of secondary homes in Kimberley is so high — around 30 per cent, McCormick said — those secondary home owners are still likely to come to town, operational main chairlift or not.
Through the difficult time, the mayor recognized the efforts of the local community to support Kimberley businesses and “we’re starting to see regular support for the businesses.”
Kimberley is capable of weathering hard times, as they have throughout the past two years, Hamilton said.
“One of the most amazing things is how resilient the community has been to date, how much they’ve been helping out RCR and KAR on the ski slopes, putting up tents, warming stations, being able to deliver food, I mean the community is incredible.
“We may have been knocked down on hte canvas but we got up before the count.”