Ski Resorts Adjusting to the New Normal

Ski and snowboard enthusiasts throughout the country seem to have one thing on their minds these days. Will there be a ski season this winter? After all, the uncertainty that has plagued the country over the last six months could spill over into the winter months. For the millions of ardent skiers and boarders, the possibility of not being able to enjoy their sport is a hard pill to swallow, and ski resorts have been flooded with calls and emails wondering what their status will be come November, often the opening day for many ski areas.

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According to ski officials the answer – although it comes with several disclaimers – appears to be, “Yes, there will be a ski season this winter.”

Obviously no one can predict what will happen several months from now, but ski resorts are cautiously optimistic that they will open as planned, albeit with a whole new set of guidelines in place.

Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, says, “It goes without saying that operations at our 34 North American resorts will abide by all local regulations, but for us, that’s just where safety begins. Since the beginning of this crisis, we have made a commitment to all of our stakeholders that we will operate in a way that puts safety first and uses the insights we have gleaned from operating so many resorts around the world. This often means choosing to go above and beyond what is required in order to do our very best to provide you peace of mind.” You can read his full statement here.

The 34 resorts are focusing on three things this season: the safety of their guests, employees and community; having a successful season start to finish; and prioritizing pass holders. “It has been our goal to design an approach that can remain in place for all of the 2020/21 season,” says Katz. “We do not want to be caught off guard or find ourselves needing to make reactionary changes. Striving for consistency will provide our guests, employees and communities with as much predictability as possible this season, which we believe is worth the extra effort.”

Key changes outlined in the plan include:

  • Guests will be required to wear face coverings to get on the mountain and in all parts of resort operations, including in lift lines and riding in lifts and gondolas.
  • To maintain physical distancing on chairlifts and gondolas, they will only be seating related parties (guests skiing or riding together) or: two singles on opposite sides of a four-person lift; two singles or two doubles on opposite sides of a six-person lift; or two singles on opposite sides of our larger gondola cabins.
  • Ski and ride school will be offered and on-mountain dining will be open, but with changes to help keep guests safe.
  • The mountain access will be managed to ensure guests have the space they need. As such, the Company announced a mountain access reservation system and limits on lift tickets to prioritize its pass holders.

“For the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to. However, we are not planning for the majority of days, we are planning for every day of the season,” said Katz. “We want to provide assurance to our guests that we will do our very best to minimize crowds at all times – be it a holiday weekend or the unpredictable powder day. We believe this approach will help ensure a safe experience for everyone, while prioritizing access for our pass holders.” Details on the pass holder reservation system can be found here.

Stratton Mountain, Vermont, has implemented plans plans that include the operation of nearly all services and amenities with adjustments, including physical spacing, significantly enhanced and appropriate cleanliness and disinfection, and face coverings for staff, and guests while indoors in public spaces. Distancing will emphasize on lifts and gondola and in mazes. Parking patterns will be adjusted to provide guests more opportunities to access the lifts directly from their vehicles, and rental space has been increased and reimagined to provide social distancing for arriving guests and proper disinfection of equipment. Mountain Sports School group sizes, group configurations and teaching techniques have been altered to provide for greater distancing, while still providing high-quality instruction. Stratton’s trademark Village will be open. Restaurants, many with firepits and outdoor tables, all have broadened take-out plans. Several retail shops are now open, and the others will be open for winter. The now normal mask requirements and plexiglass shields are in place, along with occupancy limits so guests can enjoy their shopping experience. The Nordic Center will be open for cross-country skiing, fat tire bike touring, snowshoeing and hiking, perfect for those in search of a social yet socially distant outdoor activity.

Deer Valley, Utah, is busy developing plans with the primary goal of helping to keep guests and staff safe. The Adventure Assurance Program enables all 2020-21 Deer Valley Season Pass products to be bought with confidence as eligible 2020-21 pass holders will be able to defer the use of their unused pass and elect to exchange it for a credit of the purchase price paid to be applied toward their purchase of any single 2021-22 Deer Valley winter Season Pass product. Additionally, if Deer Valley is unable to operate the pass holder will receive a proportional credit towards the purchase of a 2021-22 Deer Valley Season Pass.

Sun Valley Resort, Idaho. “The health and safety of our employees, guests and community remain paramount,” explains Bridget Higgins, Director of Marketing & Public Relations. “We are following guidance and scientific expertise from the CDC, Idaho Department of Health and Blaine County Health Department to help amend winter operations to allow for a safe ski experience.” The resort is currently working through their winter operations protocols, following the guidance from the CDC, Idaho Department of Health and Blaine Country Health Department. Sun Valley Resort has implemented new protocols and procedures to their summer operations, and they are taking lessons from those departments to help adjust winter operations. Higgins says, “We are committed to following all state and local health orders and will continue to adjust our operations and safety protocols as needed. The health and safety of our employees, guests and community are paramount.” Sun Valley Resort will open 380 acres of new terrain and a brand new high-speed quad chairlift this winter which will allow for more skiing and social distancing while skiing.


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