It’s been nearly two months since the first ski resorts in North America apprehensively began spinning their lifts. While there have been relatively few ski resort shutdowns (the entire province of Ontario notwithstanding), we’re certainly not in the clear.
SKI checked in with resorts around the continent to see how things are going. The good news? It’s only January—plenty of time to right the wrongs. The bad news? It’s only January. Plenty of time for COVID flare-ups to wreak havoc in the mountains.
Or for poorly behaved patrons to hassle one too many lifties, leaving resorts no choice but to take their ball and go home. If masking up—in a sport where you’d most likely be wearing one anyway—is an affront to your personal liberties, know that European skiers are dealing with widespread closures and seasons that haven’t even started due to surging COVID rates.
Wear a mask, follow the resort’s guidelines around distancing and riding the lifts, and maybe thank your local lift attendants while you’re at it—all they’re trying to do is keep you skiing. Here’s what is happening across North America.
The Green Mountain state is grappling with the double whammy of COVID and meager snowfall. Resort traffic is way down, thanks in part to Vermont’s interstate travel restrictions requiring people from across state lines to either quarantine for 14 days or test negative after seven.
Needless to say, it’s tough to make a ski vacation work around that. Add to it the fact that less than 50 percent of the state’s terrain has been able to open as of early January (the norm is closer to 75 percent), and you can see why the industry is hurting.
In the good-news column, Vermont ski patrollers will be included in the first wave of vaccine recipients, hopefully heading off what happened at Hunter Mountain when an outbreak hit the ski area’s patrollers, causing the mountain to shut down for three days in early January.
Governor Jared Polis moved most Colorado counties from red to orange on the state’s COVID-19 dial in early January, easing restrictions at many ski resorts in the process. This means that some resorts, such as Keystone and Breckenridge, have relaxed their capacity regulations, releasing more reservation slots weekly. As of this week, reservations for all of the Vail-owned resorts were available.
At Copper Mountain, moving to orange means more parking reservations will continue to be available. Skiers are advised to check the website on Mondays when more inventory is released. But at ski areas such as Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, the move on the dial hasn’t meant much, as capacity is dictated by how much terrain is open.
“Guest compliance with COVID-19 policies is largely good,” says Chris Linsmayer, Public Affairs Director with Colorado Ski Country USA, “but there is the need to constantly remind guests, especially those that have been skiing or riding and are approaching a lift line, to cover their mouths and nose.
Parking lots have license plates from a number of different states, showing that an expanded drive market is certainly alive and well this winter.” That might be just what’s causing havoc in Pitkin County, home to Aspen Snowmass, where county leaders were mulling a shutdown around the holidays but settled on a return to red on the COVID-19 dial in early January, banning indoor dining (including on the mountain) and reducing lodging capacity to 50 percent in Aspen and Snowmass Village.
For restrictions to ease back down to orange, cases in the county have to decline for two weeks straight, so mask-up folks. And Bluebird Backcountry, the new lift-free ski area in northern Colorado, was forced to temporarily suspend operations in early January after a visitor tested positive for the virus. The resort reopens on Jan. 14.
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"Guest compliance with COVID-19 policies is largely good,” says Chris Linsmayer, Public Affairs Director with Colorado Ski Country USA, “but there is the need to constantly remind guests, especially those that have been skiing or riding and are approaching a lift line, to cover their mouths and nose."
Solitude skiers who’ve been unwilling to wear masks and social distance on the lift lines have led the resort to tweet a message earlier this month asking guests to follow the rules and stop harassing employees.
Here’s a friendly PSA: If you’d rather not pull that face mask up for the short time you’re in the queue, hiking for your turns is an option—no lift riding required.
Aside from that, it’s been quiet on the COVID front in the Wasatch. “Visits are better than expected,” reports Paul Marshall, Director of Communications at Ski Utah. “Due to ongoing and effective efforts, mask compliance at Utah resorts has been very good. We do have lower than average snowfall, which probably has hampered visitation which is not necessarily a bad thing.”
At northern Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain Resort, twilight skiing has been suspended ahead of MLK weekend, citing “an overwhelming noncompliance with our mask policies and social distancing,” says Dig Chrismer, the resort’s marketing manager.
While day skiers seem to be following the rules, the resort is not seeing the same safety measures in place during their night-skiing operations, so will take a pause to reconsider their approach.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s Dec. 7 stay-at-home order remains in effect for most of the state, limiting people to travel within 120 miles of their homes, effectively putting the kibosh on California’s slopes as a destination for most skiers this winter.
The state is seeing an average increase of 43,444 new cases per day, according to reporting by The New York Times. That said, the ski resorts are all open for business, albeit local business.
In Mono County, home to Mammoth, there’s increased demand to re-open local businesses even as the virus continues to spread. The ski slopes remain open, though resort-owned lodging is not available for the duration of the stay-at-home order, dining is to-go only, and day lodge access is limited to restrooms, lockers, ski rentals, and guest services.
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On December 26, Ontario shut down all non-essential businesses to stem the spread of COVID-19, which includes the province’s 58 ski areas.
The move was made in part to discourage travel between the provinces—the U.S./Canada border has been closed since March—but there is speculation that the shutdown is having the opposite effect, as people are now crossing into Quebec to ski that province’s open slopes.
The rest of the country’s ski areas are also open for business, but not entirely without issues. Alberta and B.C. have both reported outbreaks at several of their resorts, including Lake Louise, Nakiska, and Big White, mostly among staff. And Kicking Horse, B.C., has eliminated the single lines due to people abusing it and harassing lifties who load one person to a gondola, which is absolutely shattering our perception of our ‘Sorry, eh’ neighbors up north.
Despite that, Destination B.C.’s Media Relations Specialist Sabrina Robson says that the “resorts here have done a great job of implementing safety measures, and for the most part, we’ve seen a high level of compliance. There’s a travel restriction in B.C. until Feb. 5, so it’s mainly locals visiting the resorts at the moment.”