People snowshoe at the foot of the shutdown slopes of Blue Mountain Ski Resort in The Blue Mountains, Ont., Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

People snowshoe at the foot of the shutdown slopes of Blue Mountain Ski Resort in The Blue Mountains, Ont., Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Skiers may be safe from COVID-19, but not those working to keep slopes open: experts

COVID outbreaks have been reported at larger resorts in previous months, mostly affecting staff

Fresh air, blazing speed and spacious alpine terrain makes skiing and snowboarding low-risk activities for COVID-19 transmission, infectious disease doctors say.

But the threat is never zero during a global pandemic, they add. And people working those snowy slopes may be at greater risk of catching the virus than those dashing down them.

While the activity of skiing is relatively safe from a transmission standpoint, experts say spread can still happen, and COVID outbreaks have been reported at larger resorts over the last couple months, mostly affecting staff members.

A resort in Kelowna, B.C., in December began with workers living on site before it sprawled to include more than 130 cases. Popular Lake Louise and Nakiska resorts in Alberta also reported outbreaks among staff.

Dr. Andrew Boozary, the executive director of population health and social medicine at the University Health Network, says it’s clusters of cases like those that make ski hills concerning.

“I have no anti-skiing bias — it’s an activity that makes a whole lot of sense in Canada — but there’s a lot of people who take on risk to ensure a ski hill is operational,” he said.

“A lot of the time we rely on people who are in temporary work or who’ve been underpaid, without living wages and without paid sick leave, to take on risk so some of us can have that pleasure and leisure activity.”

Boozary likened the recent emphasis on ski hills to that of golf courses over the summer, or to policy around cottages and seasonal vacation homes that were tailored to higher-income populations.

Skiing, like golf, isn’t affordable to everyone, he says.

And while Boozary agrees that skiing and snowboarding can provide mental health benefits of exercise in a low-risk setting, he’d like to see more emphasis on ensuring lower-income populations have safe, outdoor spaces too.

“We’ve seen this dichotomy, this tale of two pandemics. And we’re seeing it now with skiing,” Boozary said. “There’s an income divide on who gets access to these spaces.”

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alberta, says staff members at ski resorts are more likely than visitors to become infected because of the close proximity workers tend to be in.

Sometimes they share indoor spaces like lunchrooms, which aren’t conducive to mask-wearing when people are eating, Schwartz says, and “transmission thrives” in those settings.

“The likelihood of infection is going to be a function of physical proximity, the amount of time they’re in that proximity, the activities they’re doing and whether there are precautions taken to minimize transmission.”

While skiers will generally be safe, those who wish to hit the slopes still need to be mindful of safety precautions, Schwartz says.

He added that spread is more likely to happen before or after people glide down the mountains, like when they put on ski boots in a crowded indoor area. Those spots should be avoided when possible, Schwartz says, and masks should be worn when distance can’t be maintained.

Other factors could make trips to snowy resorts more dangerous, he added, including guests travelling from COVID hot spots and potentially bringing the virus with them into small ski towns.

The rise of new variants of concern might require more stringent restrictions on skiers as well, says Parisa Ariya, a chemistry professor at McGill University who specializes in aerosol transmission.

Ariya says while outdoor settings are far safer than indoors, spread “actually does happen outside” in some instances, and she recommends wearing a mask while skiing or snowboarding.

Winters in Quebec and Ontario make air more dense, Ariya adds, which could have an impact on how long viral particles stay in the atmosphere.

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease expert in Mississauga, Ont., says that while cold air may cause physical changes to aerosols “it does not translate to increased risk of disease transmission.”

He says risk of outdoor spread remains “quite low,” except for situations with large crowds in close contact, like during concerts or sporting events.

“From a public health standpoint I would much rather see 50 people skiing outdoors than a group of 10 watching TV together indoors,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Campbell River automobile dealership reports positive COVID test result

Campbell River automobile dealership Steve Marshall Ford has announced a temporary closure… Continue reading

The Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness will be working towards having people with lived experience of homelessness at the table with a new peer advisory group. Photo courtesy Zoom.
Campbell River Coalition to End Homelessness to include people with lived experience at the table

Coalition and Urban Indigenous Housing group starting peer advisory working group

Greg Janicki (left), owner of Dogwood Pet Mart rasied $410 this year for the Campbell River SPCA’s Loonies for Love fundraiser which he presented to Stephanie Arkwright, branch manager of the BCSPCA – Campbell River Community Animal Centre. Photo contributed
Pandemic doesn’t stop annual Loonies for Love SPCA fundraiser

Fundraising has been a bit challenging over the past year, but the… Continue reading

NIC Engineering student Johnny Marshall lowers a prototype oyster grow-out system into the ocean for testing in Campbell River. Photo courtesy NIC
NIC partners with Cortes shellfish company on oyster research

Study and testing hoping to mitigate the impacts of warming oceans on oyster mortality

The intersection at Dogwood Street and 13th Avenue, next to the No. 1 Firehall, will see some improvements over the next six weeks or so, according to the city. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Intersection improvements coming to Dogwood and 13th Avenue

Expect delays for up to six weeks once work begins, city says

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 26 that the estate of deceased Sooke man and Hells Angels prospect Michael Widner is to be divided between his wife and his secret spouse. (Black Press Media file photo)
Estate of dead B.C. Hells Angels prospect to be divided between wife, secret spouse

Michael Widner’s 2017 death left a number of unanswered questions

Comox Valley-raised Shay Sandiford has earned a spot on the Canada skateboard team. Facebook
Vancouver Islander selected to Canada’s first-ever national skateboard team

Courtenay’s Shay Sandiford has his eye on qualifying for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

Most Read