If the summer is any indication of demand for outdoor recreation, ski areas will be very busy this upcoming season. That’s the general consensus of ski area executives who participated in an Oct. 22, Zoom media briefing hosted by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).
“We feel there is going to be a strong demand for skiing, similar to outdoor recreation we saw this summer … Everything will be in record numbers,” said Vernon Greco of Pacific Group Resorts, which includes Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire, and Powderhorn Mountain Resort, Colorado.
Resort personnel echoed standard precautions such as face masks, six-foot distancing, same-party lift loading, reduction of lodge traffic, online lift ticket reservations and purchase, parking reservations, and limited ski school class sizes. Many agreed that ski areas, by their very nature, are spread out with social distancing on the slopes, but will face challenges managing indoor spaces for food, ski school, and rentals.
Presenters encouraged skiers and riders to be flexible, that there’s a difference between guidelines and practicalities.
“We are asking people to boot up in their car and to bring only essentials on the trails. The reason is not because we’re worried about germs on (boot) bags but trying to limit the amount of people inside and time spent in lodges,” said Shannon Dunfey-Ball of Ski Hampshire.
Adam White of Ski Vermont advised, “Go online and do research. This is not the season for an impromptu ski trip or powder chasing and walk-up-to-the-ski window to buy your ticket. Educate yourself ahead of time, so we can all continue to have a season.” White explained Vermont currently has some of the strictest interstate travel restrictions in ski country.
Paul Pinchbeck of the Canadian Ski Council said, “Skiing in Canada will be a very different experience this season. “Certainly we’re expecting to espouse the principles of know before you go, because we have unique situations with province to province restrictions.”
Canada’s north-south border is currently closed, but intra-provincial travel is open. Pinchbeck says Canadian ski areas expect to load to capacity, but that could change with rising or lowering case counts.
Yves Juneau of the Quebec Ski Areas Association added, “Inter-regional travel is an important issue and hard to explain. Basically, if you come from a red alert level, like Montreal, and go to Mont Tremblant, which is orange level, you are supposed to keep the same behavior as you have back home. It’s pretty tricky, so we are going to have a tough time to explain to people.”
The good news? Two face coverings in Quebec will allow ski areas to operate even at a red alert level.
Nordic ski areas plan on a significant increase in attendance this winter. “Trailheads in New England are still packed, so there is a desire to be outside that is not changing,” said Reese Brown of the Cross Country Ski Areas Association. He added that robust early season pass sales plus entry-level ski packages in August indicate an influx of new skiers.
“We are feeling extremely bullish with new groups of people coming into XC Skiing,” he said.
At Vail Resorts, “The exciting thing is that we are going to have a season. We are striving for consistency across the resorts to provide as much predictability as possible,” says Jody Churich, General Manager of Keystone, Colo., which will open Nov. 6 for its 50th season.
“We believe that the majority of skiers will be able to ski and ride on the days they want,” she said of the 37 areas that make up Vail Resorts.
One priority is Epic season pass holders. For example, at Keystone during early season from Nov. 6 to Dec. 8, lift tickets will not be on sale and the mountain can only be accessed by pass holders with reservations.
Anelise Bergin of Ski Utah said the Utah areas really leaned on NSAA’s recommended guidelines this past summer and opened with safe operations, praised by local state health officials.
“A few things don’t change. One of them is snow and lots of it. Guess what? Snow is coming this year again, coronavirus or not, and we are going to be skiing this winter,” she said.
For more details, watch a recording of the Oct. 22, 2020 Zoom session here: