DENVER – Helmet, goggles, skis? Check. Hand sanitizer, face coating, reservation? Check.
Approximately seven months after the coronavirus shortened the ski season in the midst of spring break, resorts in the United States and Canada are slowly picking up the pieces and figuring out how to safely reopen this winter. While many details are still being worked out, resort managers are asking guests to limit their expectations and accept the new normal while skiing and snowboarding in the face of a pandemic.
This can mean wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart in lift lines (roughly the length of a typical ski), not having dinner, taking lifts with your group alone, and not having large après drink gatherings.
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The resorts, some of which are due to open in early November, are trying to avoid a repeat last spring, when many mountain communities were disproportionately affected by the virus as travelers from across the country and the world hit the slopes during one of the most – the busiest times of the season.
Several counties in Colorado, home to some of the country’s largest and most popular ski resorts, have been particularly affected, and state health officials have warned that small municipal hospitals do not have the resources to treat patients with the disease. In Utah, the county, which is called the home of the ski resort Park City, reported an infection rate per capita similar to New York and parts of Italy – two major hotspots at the time.
This time, industry leaders and healthcare professionals hope the knowledge that comes with a few months of life during a pandemic will help guide their efforts to ensure a safer experience.
Dr. Daniel Pastula, a neuroinfectious disease doctor at a University of Colorado hospital, says the outer element of skiing is usually safe during a pandemic, but the virus can spread if people gather in places like elevators, chalets , restaurants and bathrooms.
“I think you can ski intelligently and safely. Again, not completely eliminating the risk, but really reducing it, “he said. Pastula listed the usual safety precautions that skiers should follow, including staying outdoors as much as possible, avoiding crowds, and staying home when they are sick.
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Bird, meanwhile, said the NSAA is closely examining how colleges, transportation systems and sports organizations are dealing with the virus.
“We have an unusual luxury of watching what others are doing,” he said. “It’s all going to play out over the next two to three months, which gives us time. And we certainly need to do a preliminary review of how the southern hemisphere ski areas in Australia and New Zealand and South America.”
The Perisher ski resort near the far southeastern tip of Australia ended its ski season on October 5 with a few restrictions imposed after a fun opening day on June 24.
Staff and guests were required to wear masks and stay at least 5 feet (1.5 meters) apart while in the ski area owned by Colorado-based Vail Resorts. The lifts were run at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and skiers and snowboarders had to buy tickets online in advance. The number of guests allowed in the mountains was also limited depending on the size of the terrain and the number of elevators open.
“We enjoyed the sensational skiing and boarding while smiling (under masks) from ear to ear!” The resort posted on its website, while acknowledging that “the odds were against us” due to the pandemic and intense brush fires. who raged in the country last summer.
But other resorts in the southern hemisphere did not escape unscathed.
Hotham Alpine Resort and Falls Creek northeast of Melbourne, Australia closed their lifts on July 9 due to health restrictions and did not reopen for the rest of the ski season. Meanwhile, a number of resorts in South America also had to change their winter season due to the virus, including the popular Ski Portillo high in the Chilean Andes.
“Restrictions, including weekend quarantines and travel restrictions, would prevent us from functioning normally,” Portilo’s owners posted on the resort’s website in late August.
Many North American ski areas have already consulted with state and local health agencies and issued rules for the upcoming season.
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Most will need social distancing, masks and online ticket sales and will limit the number of people allowed indoors such as base huts and restaurants. But many go a step further by requiring reservations, which has angered some skiers and snowboarders concerned about finding a place in the mountains, especially during busy dusty days.
Vail Resorts, which owns 34 resorts in the United States and Canada, has announced that it will implement a reservation system that allows ticket holders to have exclusive access at the start of the season, unlimited weekly reservations and a continuous selection of priority days.
The resorts will limit capacity based on past visit levels, available terrain, traffic modeling for the upcoming season and how individual resorts deal with COVID-19 constraints, said CEO Rob Katz.
He acknowledged that some guests may not be able to ski and snowboard at any time, but said, “the bottom line is that in a typical season for most days, capacity at our resorts is at a level that does not require us to impose any restrictions. “
For many, the reservation system and other restrictions are not enough to keep them at home after being closed on health orders for most of the year.
During the September 24 earnings call, Katz said sales of seasonal passes had increased 18 percent this season from the same period last season, a development Bird attributes to the “cabin fever effect” aimed at winter.
“I think people see ski areas – 470 ski areas in the United States – as a way to have safe outdoor entertainment,” he said.