Winning Winter


Embracing outdoor space, no matter the temperature

The terrace off The Roof Lounge at the Park Hyatt Toronto is certainly not very large. At most, it seats 20. But, tucked away on the 18th floor, 20 guests have sweeping views of the city. After nightfall, the lights from the skyline punctuate the darkness; and once the winter weather hits, guests can see a blanket of fluffy
white draped over the city.

For some, that view is something that can’t be missed — even in sub-zero weather. Sure, many might just go out for a peek, but others want to bundle up and stargaze, maybe enjoy a drink from the winter cocktail menu — a Vanilla-Almond Mocha Martini, perhaps, or a bourbonbased Kentucky Mule. To keep those guests comfortable, there are wind screens and heaters in place on the Hyatt terrace and Hudson’s Bay blankets are provided to ward off the cold. On the days when the snow is heavy, management has no choice but to close the terrace — there’s just nowhere to shovel it all. They’re looking to remedy that, though, and have been considering installing a heated floor, says Paul Verciglio, the general manager.

At the Hyatt, winter is something with which to contend. “There’s a comment that I make to our engineering staff — and that is that it may snow in Canada…but it  never snows at the Park Hyatt,” Verciglio says.

While the veteran GM may not be able to control the weather or catch the flakes before they hit the ground.he’s got a heated driveway that ensures guests can drive in and out with ease, and he keeps his staff busy during winter months clearing the sidewalks and making sure the terrace is as comfortable as possible. The walkways need to be salted, too (although, a different product is used, to minimize salt stains inside), and carpets are spread inside so that no one slips on wet marble floors. “Winter just provides challenges,” he says.

The Hyatt’s guests, after all, are there largely for business or to enjoy the city, and most would rather avoid the cold than revel in it. At other hotels though, the coldest months of the year mean more than just logistical challenges; at these proper-ties, winter is an opportunity to offer a new set of experiences.

Take Horseshoe Resort, just an hour north of Toronto, outside of Barrie. You’d never catch general manager,  Peter Cowley saying it never snowed at Horseshoe or he wished it didn’t. In fact, guests tend to come more for the winter activities than for the hotel itself; the property is 680 acres, while the hotel itself has only 101 rooms. The resort, which is owned by Skyline International Development Inc., is known for its downhill and cross-country skiing and offers tubing, ice skating and even dogsledding.

Horseshoe employs about 800 full- and part-time wintertime staff members, and the majority can be found outside. The team includes a full-time risk manager who
makes sure everything is safe for staff and guests and about six full-time grounds employees who keep sidewalks and stairs shovelled and sanded, and parking lots ploughed. When it snows, they’re out by 7 a.m., clearing the walkways before guests come out. When snow is sparse, or the freeze/thaw cycle isn’t causing ice problems, that same staff cleans up garbage and takes care of other work on the grounds. On the flipside, when the weather is particularly bad, they’ll call on ski-lift operators to help shovel before their shift. “It’s top of mind all the time in this kind of environment,” says Cowley.

And, with the weather changing from year to year, one of the biggest problems is budgeting for winter work and supplies. “We have budgets for sand and salt, and one of the things we always get asked is, is there going be lots of snow or not,” he says. “It’s not consistent, so you just budget for an average winter.”

It’s a problem common to Canada’s winter-destination hotels, and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts — which has locations in wintertime destinations such as Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise and Whistler — deals with it by preparing for the worst. When budgeting, staff look at historical data on snowfall and weather projections for the winter ahead, says Lori Cote, Fairmont’s regional director of Public Relations for Western Canada. “The safety of our guests is paramount, so if we have to do a bit more, then that’s what we do,” she adds. “We make adjustments [to thebudget] through the year. There are some years when we get snow in July.”

And, while it may not snow in July in Minett, Ont., at JW Marriott’s The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa, the winter months certainly bring the usual logistical issues. In addition to the normal grounds staff clearing sidewalks and stairs (for which they are specially trained to avoid shovelling- related injuries), Rosseau management has their parking lots cleared by an outside source. They also have a company come in to clear snow off the hotel’s roof so it doesn’t cave. In a snowy winter, that may need to be done four or five times, and it takes multiple days to complete. “They have to tie off and wear harnesses and protective equipment. You don’t have your own people do that, because they don’t have proper training or equipment,” says Leah Leslie, director of Sales and Marketing at the 221-room hotel.

Environmental issues are also a concern. Since the Rosseau is located near Lake Rosseau, the grounds people are restricted in the materials they can use during snow clearance. If salt ran into the lake, says Leslie, it would cause ecological damage. So, the hotel staff use sand and a product called Arctic Blast Ice Melter, a deicer that’s designed with environmentally sensitive situations in mind.

But, like Horseshoe, the logistical issues at the Rosseau and the Fairmont resorts are overshadowed by the advantages of having a winter-friendly destination.
Guests come to places such as The Fairmont Banff Springs and The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to enjoy the nearby skiing, but there are also on-site activities.
At The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, for example, mountain heritage guides take guests snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, both on site and through the surrounding Banff National Park (one program has guests snowshoeing through the woods at night and sitting together to share stories in igloos built in the forest). “We know for every skier there’s a non-skier, so we want to make it an appealing destination for all,” says Cote.

The Rosseau also has a naturalist on staff to take guests snowshoeing. At night, there’s an astronomy-themed trek where guests are supplied with binoculars to look at the stars, and there’s a telescope set up when they return for an even closer look. During the wintertime, the propane-heated terrace is the site of cocktail functions; guests can also go cross-country skiing and skating. Dogsledding is organized on the golf course next door, and plenty of guests come to snowmobile through the local area. In fact, it’s so popular the hotel has snowmobile valet parking (they sometimes have 20 to 25 sleds parked at any given time). “Our individual guests on the weekends pack in as much as they can,” says Leslie.

Despite the logistical hassles, the winter months prove a draw for guests looking to get outside. “It’s the unappreciated season,” says Leslie. “But once you get there and you explore the outdoors and embrace it, you realize what we’ve got is quite extraordinary.”

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