By David & Ann Schissler – It’s no secret ski resort closings came early and suddenly this season given the Covid-19 pandemic. Mentally, I know it was the right thing to do. Emotionally, it was a little traumatic. With feet of snow on the mountain and more in the forecast, some of the best days of the season were ahead of us. It’s always hard to put them away but this season was particularly tough.

Soaking up the sun and the snow for the final day at Bretton Woods, NH. Photo by Ann Schissler

I consider myself one of the lucky few able to enjoy the last, dramatic days. I was in Lincoln, NH in mid-March anticipating covering the World Pro Ski Tour event scheduled for Waterville Valley. Of course, it didn’t happen. It was one of a flurry of cancellations and closures each day that week. As the emails kept arriving, I began to wonder if my ski season was over, too. That Sunday, March 15th, I went to Waterville anyway. When I checked their website that morning, I learned they intended to turn lifts indefinitely while taking prudent precautions around the mountain. Cleaning was stepped up and sanitation stations were readily available. 

I was surprised to see how “normal” the mountain appeared. It was a pretty typical Sunday with a full parking lot and families everywhere. I went into the base lodge with the intention of keeping my 6-foot interval. I was pleased to see that would not be an issue. There was plenty of room and others were practicing social distancing, too. I had a table to myself. Purell was readily available and I used it.

Being on the hill was totally typical. It was a bluebird day with a nicely groomed surface and it felt quite normal. There were plenty of skiers and boarders around and since giving each other space on the trail is the norm no one was ever closer to me than 10 feet. The biggest risk to my health was riding up the lift. I was riding single that trip (my wife Ann pretty much had her fill of spring skiing by then and Covid-19 was her tipping point). As I entered the lift maze, I made of point using the singles line and riding up single if I could, which is so counter to years of practicing and promoting good lift line etiquette; or with another single when possible. We would each sit on opposite ends of a quad chair and talk about the crazy circumstance we were all dealing with. 

The new gondola sits idle over fully covered trials at Bretton Woods.
Photo by Ann Schissler

The next day, Monday the 16th, I went to Bretton Woods. Again, a thorough search of their website that morning ensured lifts were turning that day. By then, so many closings and cancellations were being announced that you just couldn’t assume a resort would be operating without checking prior. It was another bluebird day with great snow. When I arrived at the mountain, I was a little surprised to see there were no restrictions at all on movement or behavior. I was surprised to see that for some reason the resort closed all but two lifts on the main mountain. This created lift lines no one was happy to be in. There was a sign just before the loading area instructing us to only ride up with those in our party regardless of number. Even though I was still a single, since the line was significant, I decided to ride with others. Normally, I would just slide into the first single slot that became available but this day I made of point of asking consent to ride up with their party. I’m happy to say no one said “No”. In fact, in true New Hampshire spirit several congratulated me for being unafraid of riding with them. Of course, each ride up the conversation turned to the virus, closings, where is this leading, etc. like all of you have been talking about too. 

This was Waterville Valley one day before closing. A great day but it was heartbreaking to know it was over. Photo by Ann Schissler.

My last day of the season was St. Patrick’s Day at Waterville Valley again. I woke up to 2-to-3 inches of new powder snow. I did the morning website check again and saw dramatic changes in Waterville’s operations of just two days before. The three main lifts were turning but the lodge, (accept for some ground floor restrooms), cafeteria, ski school, ski shop, rental shop, and on-mountain restaurant were all closed. You had to boot-up in the parking lot (what other sport dresses in the parking lot?) and leave all belongings in your vehicle. This made more sense to me. I could walk right to the lift, ski all day, walk back to my car and still maintain the recommended social distancing. That day, Bretton woods moved to the same model. No lodge, etc. In spite of the precautions the outcry from peers and others forced the closure of both mountains for the season the next day. 

Ten days after Waterville Valley closed there’s still a healthy snow-pack.

There’s talk of some mountains potentially re-opening but I think that ship has sailed. As I’m writing this the number of Covid-19 cases is growing exponentially, first responders are still lacking Personal Protective Equipment and the Federal government is still dragging its feet. My hometown on Cape Cod is even more of a ghost town than usual for March and the summer season is in doubt. As much as I love to ski, keeping myself, those I love and strangers safe is far more important. Here’s looking to a bumper 20/21 ski season.