By David Schissler – I’m sure you’ve wondered more than once what the 20/21 ski season may look like, or if it will happen at all. 

I recently logged-on to watch “An Opportunity to Hear from Resorts on Operating Through a Pandemic”, a Town Hall presented by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) and Snowsports Industries America (SIA). The purpose was to provide insight and best practices for re-opening and to “collaboratively make the best of the upcoming winter season for our customers”. 

The guest speakers were:

  • John Burton, Director of Marketing & PR, Timberline Lodge & Ski Area, OR 
  • Rick Kelley, COO Boyne East, Boyne Resorts (Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, MI, Big Sky Resort, MT, Summit at Snoqualmie, WA, Brighton Ski Resort, UT, Loon Mountain, NH, Sugarloaf and Sunday River, ME, and Cypress Mountain BC).
  • Dave Norden, CEO, Taos Ski Valley, NM 
Photo courtesy of Timberline Lodge and Ski Area

Each of the executives agreed their first concern is making employees feel safe coming back to work. Without a safe work environment employees simply won’t return. And it’s not enough for them just to return. They need to project their confidence in their safety to us, their customers so we will feel safe, too. Without staff and customers feeling safe re-opening simply won’t work. No one wants to open and have to close again due to a outbreak. The now standard mitigation protocols: masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, and frequent disinfecting will be SOP throughout the resorts. 

Photo courtesy of Loon Mountain Resort, NH

Nearly all interaction will be virtual. There will be no more ticket lines or on mountain access to most services. Everything, lift tickets, rentals, lessons, group programs, etc. will be reserved and purchased online only. Boot fitters in the rental shop will work with a plexiglass divider between them and the customer. Masks will be required for employees and customers at all retail locations at all times and access will be metered according to the current restrictions in the state where the resort is located.

Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Resort

How to apply social distancing to lift lines is a little more challenging although if resorts are required to limit capacity that may ease congestion at the bottom. Riding up is easier. You may ride up any way you wish. Either with the party you came with, single, or one rider on each end of the chair. Just let the lift attendant know.

It remains to be seen if losses due to the early closures last March (Vail Resorts recently reported a loss of $140 million last spring) will impact snowmaking/grooming budgets this fall and winter. To save resources resorts may be limiting operations in some way such as covering fewer trails or running less lifts during the week. Depending on capacity at the time, season pass holders and ski-week vacationers may get priority lift privileges. Day trippers will have to check availability and reserve on line. Parking could be reduced by as much as 50% or two spots for each vehicle to keep distance between customers gearing up. After years of encouraging day riders to take public transportation when possible, resorts like Taos are now doing just the opposite in order to discourage the spread of Covid-19 in their communities.