With Park City Mountain Resort announcing Nov. 20 as its opening day for winter operations for passholders, skiers and riders hoping to get out on the slopes during the COVID-19 pandemic should expect a different experience than they are used to. KPCW talked with the National Ski Areas Association about what skiing and riding during a pandemic might look like.
The NSAA works with over 300 ski areas in 37 states and compiles nationwide data on skier and rider visits each year to help its member resorts provide the best experience possible to their guests.
When the 2019-2020 ski and snowboard season came to a premature end in March as the COVID-19 pandemic closed resorts worldwide, the industry was forced to adapt.
Adrienne Isaac is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the NSAA and says despite the challenges faced since March, the industry was actually able to learn a lot about operating during the pandemic after a handful of resorts were able to briefly reopen in May. She says even though summer operations at a number of resorts around the country are going well, this winter should be approached on a case-by-case basis by resorts.
“It’s going to take attention this season,” she said. “There’s not going to be a one size fits all solution for every resort or every state. We’re really going to have to monitor the local situation of the pandemic to make sure that our operations scale to that appropriately.”
The NSAA has released a set of best practices for resorts based on guidelines from the CDC and World Health Organization and will be able to help resorts with educational signage this winter. Isaac says regardless of where your home resort is located, she believes mandatory face coverings, physical distancing measures, and increased hygiene and sanitation efforts will be standard.
PCMR’s parent company, Vail Resorts, announced this week that reservations will be required to access the mountain at all of their locations this winter in order to better manage crowd sizes. Isaac says although reserving a spot on the mountain may sound extreme to some people, the industry has actually been experimenting with it for the past few years as a way to be more efficient when it comes to things like staffing and guest services.
“That concept has come to skiing within the last decade and, honestly, even before the pandemic, it helped resort operators staff and make sure they have the number of lessons available for people who were coming,” Isaac said. “I think that’s going to be even more important this year in order to manage the number of people who want to be skiing and riding.”
Vail Resorts says they do not expect to hit their cap on visitor numbers for the vast majority of days this winter, but visitors should do their research and book well in advance in order to guarantee their access to the mountain.
The Park City Chamber Bureau tells KPCW they are expecting a 40% reduction in visitors to Park City this winter holiday season. Isaac says despite the harsh outlook, resorts within a reasonable driving distance for visitors might actually see an increase in visits this winter. With the majority of Utah ski and ride destinations within an hour of the greater Salt Lake City area, many of the state’s resorts could actually have successful seasons.
“I don’t think we’re going to see necessarily a record year,” Isaac said. “I do think smaller, drive-market, local ski hills might see a lot more traffic. I think given people’s risk tolerance for interstate travel that you might be exploring your backyard a little bit more and that could give smaller, independent ski areas a real chance to stand out. When you look at summer, bike shops are sold out, trailheads are crowded, people were itching to get back outdoors, especially after being in quarantine. I think after seeing the demand through the spring, I think we’re going to see that demand carry through the winter. It might be a good time to explore some different ski areas in your backyard that you haven’t checked out before.”
More informaion on the NSAA can be found here.