The first weekend of the ski season now in the books, Aspen Skiing Co. managed crowds in lift lines and on the hill amid the pandemic, and reported no problems with mask compliance.
Sgt. Terry Leitch of the Aspen Police Department confirmed Sunday there were no reported incidents involving mask compliance anywhere in Aspen over the holiday weekend, and said overall while things seemed busy, it was quiet from the law enforcement side.
On Sunday, SkiCo’s vice president of communications Jeff Hanle was queried about opening weekend 2020-21 which included operations on Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, plus a little bit of Buttermilk and a one-day tease of Aspen Highlands.
Aspen Daily News: What was the single most important thing that Aspen Skiing Co. took away from this first winter weekend of the pandemic?
Jeff Hanle: We learned that the simple act of sliding on snow can be such a bright spot in a time where those have been few and far between. The shared experience of being outside doing what we all love to do can give us a sense of normalcy and joy. And I think we learned that if we all cooperate and work together we can do this through April. It’s going to be a group effort.
ADN: How did skier numbers over Thanksgiving weekend compare to last season this same weekend?
JH: Numbers were similar to past opening weekends when we had comparable conditions and terrain. We were happy with business levels.
ADN: Is the concept of reservations still on the table? If so, would it potentially be for only the busiest holiday periods?
JH: Yes, the concept is still on the table, and as we get busier the potential of implementing reservations at some point this season seems likely. It is directly tied to our capacity, which can be dictated by available terrain, lifts and facilities as well as health metrics and restrictions.
ADN: The Little Nell and Bell chairs operated for the first time in years for opening weekend. Will they continue to run daily?
JH: We’ve run Nell and Bell in recent years when we didn’t have natural snow at the summit and didn’t have the new snowmaking up there. We will gauge demand as well as other available lifts and terrain to guide that decision. Once we get the west side open, 1A and Ruthies, we will spread out that way.
ADN: To further spread out crowds and minimize pinch points, are longer operating hours for the lifts/mountain contemplated?
JH: Not at this time. We are pinched by time to get the mountain ready in the morning as well as clearing and sweeping at the end of the day with available daylight.
ADN: Lift ops seemed to be pretty vigilant about enforcing proper mask wearing this weekend. Were any incidents of refusal reported?
JH: Not that I’m aware of. On the whole everyone was cooperative. At times at upper lifts we had to remind people to keep their masks up, all the way up over nose and mouth. It seemed to be more about just letting it flip and forgetfulness than anything else. We will likely work to increase signage and staff and continue to push the message so we can all keep skiing.
ADN: We were blessed with good weather all weekend, so enjoying a picnic or forgoing a place to warm up wasn’t a big deal. What plans are in place to manage crowds of people who might need to escape the elements en masse?
JH: It’s going to be a challenge.The more terrain we can get open the more options we’ll have. We would also encourage people to help out by avoiding the busiest restaurants and the busiest times. The Sundeck and Elk Camp were often at capacity, while Ullrhof had plenty of space.
We are also going to ask people not to set up camp and linger in restaurants. With limited capacity we are asking people to have lunch then get back on the hill. People should also consider grabbing lunch in town.
ADN: Finally, in July, (President and CEO) Mike Kaplan spoke of how the ski season would be “more of an old school experience” amid the pandemic. Any anecdotal evidence from either guests or locals that this is coming to fruition?
JH: We did see more people spend more time skiing and less time at lunch and apres.