TIMMINS -- When it comes to winter in northern Ontario, Timmins City Councillor Michelle Boileau argues snow sports like downhill and cross-country skiing are essential to people in the region.

When the avid snowboarder noticed the southern town of Oro-Medonte plans to ask the province's minister of health to declare the activities essential services in the event of another lockdown, Boileau suggested this city should do the same during Tuesday's council meeting.

"These are sports that you typically enjoy mostly individually, of course, we go along with friends, but we're always keeping a distance anyway," Boileau said. "It's something that we'd be able to keep doing even with the current pandemic." 

The pandemic began toward the end of the season for winter facilities like the Kamiskotia Snow Resort in Timmins, which closed operations when the city saw its first case of COVID-19. 

Kamiskotia's board chair, Cameron Grant, said the months since meant plenty of time to prepare a more solid operation plan, compared to the initial stay at home orders. 

Grant said there is now a large document from the Ontario Snow Resorts Association that is guiding how the ski hill will reopen, which will also make a better case for staying open if the region reverts back to Stage 2 restrictions.

"The ski hill has been able to implement some safety distancing protocols within the chalet," Grant said. "We've gone to a more digital platform, in terms of booking digital tickets, for example."

Working with the Porcupine Health Unit to ensure the regulations are followed has been a smoother experience, he said. 

Christine Dorion, the president of the Porcupine Ski Runners, a cross-country ski and snowshoe club, agrees. 

She said now that there are standard documents to refer to from the health unit, facilities are more confident in adapting to the situation and even adding extra precautions as needed.

"Everybody's getting used to the whole COVID restrictions," Dorion said. "This year, I think we can cover that. We can encourage people to ski and then still offer them a safe environment."

With snow arriving earlier than usual, the snow resort and ski club are hoping for an early start to their season.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the province, Dorion and Boileau agree that people need to be able to rely on pandemic-safe activities staying open, as long as they follow the rules. 

"It'll be important for everyone's not only physical but mental well-being to be able to keep active this winter," said Boileau.