Northeastern resorts gear up for a ski season like no other.
To ski the slopes this year, you not only need to adjust your altitude (as the bumper sticker goes), but you also need to adjust your attitude. For resorts in the Northeast in the midst of “a very, very, very dark winter,” this means redesigning how you operate to quell fears of COVID.
While skiing benefits from being an outdoor activity with generous spacing, numerous challenges have needed to be addressed — from altering social distancing on chairlifts and gondolas to fine dining and the social scene of aprés ski.
Six resorts outside of Washington tell us how they prepared for a season like no other.
For the seven properties owned by Vail Resorts, the most fundamental procedures include requiring face coverings, cashless transactions, and physical distancing at all times on the mountain.
“Most of our protocols are enterprise-wide,” said Jeff Wise, Communications Manager for Stowe (Vermont), Attitash and Wildcat (New Hampshire) mountains. “However, [resorts must also] follow specific state guidelines.”
Because Vail Resorts owns 34 different properties in North America, an organized mandate has been key to its new procedures. For example, on chairlifts, Wise stated the simple and easy-to-implement guideline: “Guests can ride chairlifts and gondolas with their related parties, but no one will be required to ride with someone they don’t know.”
Vail Resorts has also reduced physical lines through the online presence of Epic Pass. Margo Van Ness, representing Mount Snow (Vermont) and Hunter Mountain (New York), noted the new requirements of pass holder reservations in order to buy tickets and a streamlined process of renting equipment, which includes an expanded and free delivery service, and at select locations, a virtual line management system accessible through the Epic Pass platform.
Limited Social Scene
Perhaps no aspect of skiing will look more different this year than dining and drinking. In an effort to expedite the flow of skiers coming in and out of restaurants, Vail Resorts has expanded its Quick Service option, through which guests can pick up ready-to-go hot and cold meals and take advantage of a new feature called Time to Dine, which allows guests to book their meals proactively and avoid crowding.
As for aprés ski, the rowdy tradition will no longer be permitted.
“We will only be offering packaged beer and wine,” said Donna Himes, a representative of Blue Knob in Pennsylvania. “[A]nd all of our full-service bars will be closed.” Blue Knob’s on-site restaurants also moved to a takeout-only service.
While no one really knows what’s in store for this season (amid snow, ice, slush or mud), or how many people will feel safe enough to ski or snowboard, resorts are holding out hope for one stimulus: cabin fever.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand for winter sports,” said Himes, who thinks that those hitting the slopes will be “those who are ready to get outside.”
Added Wise, “Most skiers and snowboarders have their sport and passion ingrained in their lifestyle …[they] need the activity during these times.”
Maybe they do. Maybe we all do.