Hitting the slopes and COVID-19

Chairlift in Telluride (Photo by Jessica Silva)

As summer dwindles to an end, the start of winter is almost among us. For many, this is a time of heading up into the mountains among the chillier weather and spending some time skiing down the slopes. However, as the pandemic continues to ravage through the United States, the ski industry is taking a tentative approach for the winter season. 

Vail Resorts has become one of the first major resorts that has announced plans to open for the 2020-21 season among the pandemic. In an open letter issued on Aug. 27, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, outlined a tentative plan for the upcoming season. 

He stated that guests now more than ever need to “reconnect with the outdoors, we need to feel normal and energized as we carve down the mountain with crisp air on our faces.” Vail Resorts acknowledges the need for time spent outdoors, but this season will look far more different than any other in the past. With safety at the forefront of operations, Katz states that “This year, our commitment to safety takes on more importance than ever,” stated Katz as he explained the reasoning for the guidelines and principles of the winter season. 

Katz explained that Vail does not want to find themselves in a reactive situation which is why the company believes that,  “...striving for consistency will provide our guests, employees and communities with as much predictability as possible this season, which we believe is worth the extra effort.”

The main guidelines for the winter season include the use of face coverings, promoting physical distance and enforcing health screening when physical distance is not possible. The letter stated that face coverings must be worn at every aspect of Vail Resorts operations. This includes wearing a facial covering when loading on chair lifts and gondolas, when inside of all buildings, during ski/snowboard lessons and encouraging the use in indoor and outdoor settings in respective resorts. 

In terms of promoting social distancing, the company will be moving to a reservation system. This system requires that skiers and snowboarders make a reservation before going up the mountain. These restrictions are subject to change among different locations but pass holders may not need reservations at; Telluride, Sun Valley, Snowbasin, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Hakuba and Rusutsu. Additionally, Vail Resorts is offering their early passholders the opportunity to book up to seven priority reservation days and reserving the early season. 

Physical distancing will take effect among Vail Resorts through chair lifts/gondolas, restaurants and ski and snowboard lessons. Chair lifts/gondolas will only be seating related parties; two singles on the opposite side of the chairlift, two doubles on opposite sides of a six person lift and two angles on opposite sides of the gondola. 

On-mountain restaurants will limit the amount of people allowed inside given the layout of each restaurant. Some will be providing ready-to-go meals for guests. Lastly, both guests and employees will be required to wear face masks for ski/snowboard lessons as well as fill out a health screening prior to lessons. 

Katz mentioned that, “Not everyone will agree with our approach - some feeling we are being too conservative or aggressive.” However, given the current state of the pandemic the company believes that this is the best approach to ensure that respective resorts can “...help keep you safe and make skiing and riding a reality this entire winter” stated Katz.

Vail Resorts is not the only company setting out guidelines for the winter season, others such as Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado have come out with their own plans for the season. 

Telluride Ski Resort announced that the winter season will run from Thanksgiving day to Apr. 4. The resort announced that given the ongoing pandemic, the resort will be facing some challenges. As the Telski majority owner stated, “The ski resort is facing a challenging ski season due to reduction in visirots, decreased flights and lodging/restaurant occupancy restrictions.” To combat the loss in revenue, Horning stated that prices may increase to help offset the costs of operating in the Covid-19 environment. 

Unlike Vail, Telluride will not be implementing a reservation system. The resort however will be following local and state Covid-19 guidelines to operate in the winter. As stated, this will include purchasing temporary outdoor structures and investing in software to assist in contactless sales. 

Despite the challenges facing the resort, Horning stated that the “safety of our employees and guests are paramount to us...We’ve had tough times before, and we remain committed to deliver a quality experience this winter, facing many unknowns and constraints.” 

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