Maintaining 6 feet of distance while on the ski hill and requiring face coverings on chairlifts are among the operational best practices that will be recommended for U.S. ski areas this season by its 58-year-old trade association.
National Ski Areas Association, which has as its members the majority of the country’s 470 snow sport areas, has published a set of operational best practices for the winter season, “Ski Well, Be Well,” which were shared Thursday with member areas, including Sunlight Mountain Resort.
“We learned on an NSAA call that the industry is leaning toward putting capacity and access into terms of COVID capacity. How many people can we safely accommodate at our ski areas amid COVID,” said Troy Hawkes, Sunlight’s sales and marketing director.
A section of “Ski Well, Be Well” reads: “Snowsports are a way for people to play in wide-open spaces, and to take advantage of the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor recreation.
“For decades, ski area owners and operators have managed skier numbers and safety in daily operations, collaborating with fellow industry experts to offer safe and memorable experiences. The National Ski Areas Association, state and regional ski associations, and ski areas commit to providing outdoor recreation in ways that promote health and safety, and reduce the risk of infection,” it continued.
Adrienne Saia Isaac, NSAA’s director of marketing and communications, said Friday, “Skiers and riders nationwide can expect to see requirements for face coverings, physical distancing protocols like line markers or one-way traffic flows and enhanced cleaning and disinfection, especially in high-touch areas.”
She added, “The ski industry is focused on a return to skiing and riding that demonstrates the high value our industry places on the health and safety of our guests, staff and communities.”
According to NSAA, nationwide the snowsports industry through its 470 areas in 37 states generates $55 billion while supporting 533,000 jobs. In many rural economies, ski areas are the primary revenue generator.
NSAA President and CEO Kelly Pawlak noted in the report’s introduction: “As ski season approaches, resorts are incorporating virus prevention into their winter operating plans, again turning to science and also learning from summer operations in the U.S. and from our peers in the southern hemisphere.”
More than 30 organizations and associations advised the document’s creation.
‘We will not be oversold’
Troy Hawks said he didn’t believe capacity would be a problem at the 680-acre Glenwood Springs resort, although during the Christmas holiday weeks online ticket bookings will be suggested and walk-up purchases limited.
“Even on Sunlight’s busiest of days, we run below or just at 50% of our lift capacity. With this, we are not anticipating having to restrict access,” he said.
“We are watching the Christmas holiday closely. We have our historic data on season pass visits over the holidays, and we will set limits on our daily tickets sales during this time so that we will not be oversold,” Hawks added.
Aspen Skiing Co. said recently it will announce pass products and “a ticketing strategy that we feel will best serve the needs of our community partners, pass holders and guests” later in September.
Vice President of Communications Jeff Hanle said previously that neither locals nor guests will get special preference when it comes to mountain capacity.
“If a certain number of people can ski, then a certain number of people can ski. And there’s not going to be a priority structure that says on that day, ‘Oh hey, sorry we have 8,000 tourists who want to ski, only 2,000 locals can ski.’ That’s not the way it works,” Hanle told the Aspen Daily News.
In August, Vail Resorts said it would use a reservation system this season, with Epic Pass holders receiving priority for on-mountain space in order to limit numbers and allow for social distancing measures in the wake of the pandemic.
Clearly, there will be no one-size-fits-all way to run a ski resort given the challenges of COVID-19.
According to Saia Isaac, “Winter operating plans will look different at each of the 470 ski areas across 37 states; plans will need to align with state and local regulations and also be scaled to the local public health reality.”
A section in “Ski Well, Be Well” on physical distancing includes: “Ski areas will create operational plans that allow for appropriate spacing between parties. This includes but is not limited to the following parts of the operation: lift queues, ticket queues, ski and snowboard lessons, employee spaces, and food and beverage outlets.”
In a section on outdoor spaces it reads, “Ski areas will create detailed, scalable operating plans for the management of outdoor spaces including base areas, lifts and ski terrain.”
Mountain users may have to be a little hardier this winter, or be prepared to wear an extra layer because indoor time is likely harder to find.
This season at Sunlight, “Access to our lodge will be very limited,” Hawks said. “We will have added outdoor food stations and a very limited menu. We will ask our guests to save room in the lodge for our youngest and oldest guests.”
He added, “We will advise hipsters and families with older kids to consider their cars their base camp this season.”
Saia Isaac allowed that, “Sunlight’s exact operating plan will probably look different from Aspen’s plan, which will probably look different from A-Basin’s, etc. — but we’re encouraging all ski areas to keep those three main best practices in mind when addressing their unique operations.”
A section of “Ski Well, Be Well” notes, “Following requirements to mitigate the risk of infection is part of the social contract between ski area operator and guest.”
Hawks said the resort will look at how the Christmas holidays unfold and then consider how to address the second part of the season.
“I envision a gradual reopening, much like what we saw with our downtown retail shop this spring and summer,” he said. “We will slowly bring back menu items, and hopefully by spring we’ll be able to host music events and really rally hard on the season.”