With the first big holiday block out of the way in Park City, area resorts took note of what worked and what didn’t during a pandemic in the middle of the busiest time of year.
If the traffic in and out of Park City over the holidays was any indication, the COVID-19 pandemic did little to deter visitors from coming to town.
To further complicate things, an uncharacteristically dry start to winter has limited new terrain openings at both Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley.
Deer Valley Director of Marketing Coleen Reardon says visitation was slightly below what they had projected for the holiday block, but with little natural snow to work with, fewer skiers made for a better on-mountain experience for guests.
“You know, it was a little bit less, but not terribly so,” says Reardon. “I think we were also grateful that we went a little under what our predictions were going to be because it made for a better experience with the conditions out there because we don’t have as much open as we typically would during a holiday season.”
Deer Valley ceased selling season passes over the holiday period and announced sell outs seven days in advance in an effort to limit crowds at the mountain. Season passes are now back on sale.
PCMR uses a dynamic reservation system to limit their capacity. Neither resort is willing to make their pandemic capacity numbers public, but full parking lots and long lift lines definitely raised some eyebrows over the past few weeks.
Vic Method has lived in Park City for 30 years and has been skiing in the area for even longer. He says more could be done at common congregation points at the mountains like in front of lodges.
“Where I think some things start to fall apart a little bit, and you could see it at Snow Park, where you would put your skis on or hike up the hill, the amount of people clustered there before the queues start is like old times,” Method says. “It’s just a mob scene.”
Jessica Miller is PCMRs Senior Communications Manager and says the holidays are the busiest block of days all season, so some crowding was expected. She says snowmaking crews are working to open new terrain and lifts, and the reservation system helps staff prepare for the number of guests allowed access to the mountain each day.
“The holidays are typically the busiest time of year and this year was no different,” says Miller. “Demand for skiing and snowboarding continues to be high. That said, we are operating with significantly reduced capacities this season, and that’s to ensure a safe, positive guest experience. It was really important that we had our reservation system in place before the season began, so that our guests had the opportunity to lock in days ahead of time and also so we could plan for the number of guests coming in every day.”
Both resorts have strict mask policies in place. Method says in his experiences this season, compliance was high, but there were a handful of guests who chose to fight the rule. He says when skiers and riders don’t follow the rules, it puts resort employees in an awkward spot none of them want to be, but he was encouraged with how uncompromising enforcement of the mask rules have been.
“As you get in and you start skiing, just as there’s been divisiveness in the country with this stupid topic of wearing a mask, you ran into the clowns that wouldn’t,” he says. “[Deer Valley doesn’t] want to be in a policing position at all, that’s a horrible position to put them into, but they would call the person out. It was quite reassuring that the resort was taking steps to try and you know, take care of things.”
Even though the weeks around Christmas and New Years are the busiest of the year, upcoming holiday weekends and spring break periods are likely to bring crowds too.
With COVID-19 vaccine distribution continuing, resorts say it’s too early to make any predictions for the rest of the season.