DENVER – Roughly seven months after the coronavirus cut the ski season short at the height of spring break, resorts across the United States and Canada are slowly picking up the pieces and figuring out how to safely reopen this winter. While many of the details are still being worked out, resort leaders are asking guests to curb their expectations and to embrace a new normal while skiing and snowboarding amid a pandemic.
That could mean wearing masks, standing 6 feet apart in lift lines (about the length of a typical ski), no dine-in service, riding lifts only with your group and no large gatherings for an apres drink.
“We're very optimistic about skiing this winter,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs at the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. “The fact that we ski outside in ultraviolet sun and in the wind, and it's common for us to wear goggles, gloves and face coverings. All of those things bode very well for us as a sport.”
Resorts, some of which are set to open at the beginning of November, are trying to avoid a repeat of last spring when many mountain communities were disproportionately hurt by the virus as travelers from all over the country and the world hit the slopes during one of the busiest times of the season.
Several counties in Colorado that are home to some of the country's largest and most popular ski resorts were particularly hard-hit, and state health officials warned that small community hospitals didn't have the resources to treat patients with the disease.
“We certainly got to preview how the southern hemisphere ski areas in Australia and New Zealand and South America, how they handled things,” Byrd said.
Hotham Alpine Resort and Falls Creek northeast of Melbourne, Australia shut down their lifts on July 9 because of health restrictions and didn't reopen for the rest of the ski season. Meanwhile, a number of resorts in South America also had to scuttle their winter season because of the virus, including the popular Ski Portillo high in the Chilean Andes.
Vail Resorts, which owns 34 resorts in the United States and Canada, has announced it will implement a reservation system that allows pass holders exclusive access at the beginning of the season, unlimited week-of reservations and a rolling selection of priority days. Resorts will limit capacity based on past visitation rates, available terrain, traffic modeling of the upcoming season, and how individual resorts handle COVID-19 restrictions, CEO Rob Katz said.
He acknowledged that some guests might not be able to ski and snowboard any time they want but said, “the bottom line is, is that in a typical season for most days, capacity at our resorts is at a level that would not require us to have to impose any limits.”