Operating a fitness facility in Squamish has been like going hard on a number of different exercises all at once, according to local owners.
Last week’s closure of fitness classes ordered by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry were just another plate on the barbell for some.
Christopher Nguyen, co-owner of Mountain Fitness Center with Aaron Lal, said his Commercial Way facility was “struggling” without the ability to offer classes.
“People here are very active and they like to have motivation and instruction and the uplifting [attitude] of our instructors and trainers,” he said.
While the facility can still open its gym for individuals to come use, Nguyen noted that even if the order relaxes somewhat, he anticipates still having to figure out a way to rejig Mountain Fitness’ operations.
“If classes do come back, we’ll definitely have to downsize it, maybe shorten it a bit so we can have more classes so everyone can have a fair share,” he said.
Henry’s orders also mandated masks indoors in public spaces, but Nguyen said that the gym had already instituted its own policy requiring masks in early November as a means of keeping staff, guests and anyone in their bubbles healthy and safe — and the gym open.
“We’ve had a lot of people huffing and puffing about masks but I hope they understand that there are people that we care for that have cancer. Although we are well, they may be not,” he said.
Thomasina Pidgeon, owner of the Squamish Athletic Club, also had a policy in place before it was a requirement.
“I did let them take it off if they were on the treadmill and if there was nobody around them, so I guess the one thing that’s going to change because the mandate is that people will have to keep it on the whole time,” she said.
While there have been a couple of members balk at protocols, Pidgeon said it’s “less than 1%” and the bulk of people will do what they need to in order to keep the gym open.
“People are just, ‘Oh, I’m glad you’re open. I don’t care if I have to wear a mask anymore. As long as I can work out, then I’m happy,’” she said.
The facility, Squamish’s oldest, offers no classes or group work, so Pidgeon said they’re not losing much on that front.
When the gym closed in March as the pandemic started to take hold across North America, Pidgeon said the gym was already starting to see lower numbers and she pivoted to helping people from a distance.
“We helped the members. They took some weights home, so that helped them a lot, too,” she said. “Mental health is a huge thing and I’m really hoping that gyms don’t have to close because people come here for their wellbeing.
“COVID is a mental stress for people and to be able to come to the gym and burn off some energy, it’s a huge relief.”
Squamish Athletic Club also benefitted from receiving some help on the rent front.
“The landlord was helpful, so we didn’t suffer as much as some people did, I think,” she said. “We have a really good landlord. He is amazing. If I didn’t have him, we’d be in a different situation, but he was willing to help people, which goes a long way.
“Rent’s not cheap.”
Nguyen, meanwhile, said while it’s a challenge to operate in the sector right now, unsure of what government aid may or may not come, he’s striving to remain confident and positive. He stressed that when dealing with individual members, some of whom only attend the gym for classes, Mountain Fitness looks to deal with each unique situation and they’re just looking to break even right now.
“It’s not about making money at this point. It’s just about being safe for the community to strive,” he said. “If we don’t have that, we just kind of fall apart.
“If we don’t uplift each other, we’re not going to survive this pandemic.”
Making the climb
Lauren Watson of Ground Up Climbing Centre noted that she’ll be able to continue to offer climbing with some additional restrictions.
“Climbing is seen as a low risk sport when it comes to transmission; individual in nature and not cardio-based in most scenarios,” she wrote in an email on Nov. 20. “To make sure we were clear on the new rules, we shut down our youth and adult lessons over the past 10 days and started a dialogue with our public health official: filling out new checklists to ensure we complied.
“We have approval to now open them back up with some additional restrictions in place.”
Watson also introduced mandatory masks in early November, and has generally seen compliance, despite the discomfort of climbing while wearing one.
After reopening after 77 days closed in the spring, Watson has aimed for “over-communication” in order to be as clear as possible about what’s expected, utilizing membership surveys, one-on-one dialogue and letters to communicate changes.
“We had to severely limit our capacity, increase our hygiene measures and create new engineering controls throughout the facility. Making the new policies was a collaborative process with our staff team. The new changes led to new challenges and frustrations, but that was to be expected,” she wrote.
One major change is how Ground Up was once a major community hub for climbers, but the atmosphere has changed significantly with the new restrictions.
Still, for those with a love of climbing, Watson reasoned that gyms are a good place to go.
“Climbing gyms are uniquely positioned to educate communities on both the risks and how to mitigate them,” she wrote. “We already do this through orientations and belay tests on a regular basis so this just became another aspect of our existent risk management plan.”