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How the New Federal Mask Mandate Could Affect Ski Areas

The new mandate requires face masks be worn at all federal buildings and lands. On paper, that includes 60 percent of ski resorts.

On his first full day in office, President Joe Biden issued a mask mandate that orders all visitors to federal buildings and federal lands to wear face coverings. The obvious inclusions are the White House, your state capital building, in line at the DMV or post office.

Federal Mask Mandate
Photo: iStock.com/PamelaJoeMcFarlane

It also includes U.S. Forest Service land—which is where 60 percent of all resort skiing in the United States is done. Additionally, while backcountry numbers are harder to pin down, recent Forest Service surveys showed more than 7 million visits per year by winter recreationists, including skiers. These numbers coupled with the new mask mandate may give resorts even more cause to enforce the use of masks by guests.

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While the full impact of a federal mask mandate on ski resorts and in the backcountry and is still being sorted out, it has raised several potential questions, namely is ignoring the mandate now a federal crime, or will common sense apply?

As we’ve seen massive lift lines spread out across the West with recent storms delivering much-needed snow, social distancing and mask enforcement continue to be a challenge for resort operators. In mid-January, twilight skiing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort was canceled due to noncompliance with mask and social distancing policies.

After President Biden’s announcement, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, where a mask requirement was already in place, was quick to tweet a reminder that “JHMR operates on a federal land lease through Bridger Teton National Forest and face coverings will be required for the foreseen future under this and state mandates.”

Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

SKI reached out to the National Ski Areas Association for further clarification, where director of marketing and communications Adrienne Saia Isaac says that the mask mandate most likely will not have a significant effect on the country’s 122 ski areas that operate on federal land.

“Ski areas nationwide already have mask requirements for indoor and outdoor public spaces, and whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained,” says Isaac.

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“Perhaps the federal mandate can help with education and compliance, especially as people experience ‘pandemic fatigue,’” she continues. Isaac also notes that the NSAA is in touch with the U.S. Forest Service as it relates to the enforcement of the mandate and more guidance on how it will affect skiers is expected in the coming weeks.

We will continue our coverage if and when more information becomes available.