DENVER (AP) – Helmet, goggles, skis? Check. Hand sanitizer, covering the face, reservation? Check.
About seven months after the coronavirus cut the ski season short at the height of spring break, resorts across the United States and Canada are slowly picking up the pieces and figuring out how to safely reopen this winter. While many details are still being worked out, resort leaders are asking guests to lower their expectations and embrace a new standard by skiing and snowboarding amid a pandemic.
It could mean wearing masks, standing 1.8 meters apart in the lift lines (about the length of a typical ski), no food service, riding lifts only with your group and no large gatherings for an afternoon drink.
“We’re very optimistic about skiing this winter,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs at the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. “The fact that we ski outside in the ultraviolet sun and in the wind, and it is common for us to wear goggles, gloves and masks. All of this bodes well for us as a sport.
The resorts, some of which are slated to open in early November, are trying to avoid a repeat of last spring when many mountain communities were disproportionately affected by the virus as travelers from across the country and around the world tumbled down the slopes during one of the busiest times of the season.
Several Colorado counties that are home to some of the nation’s largest and most popular ski resorts have been particularly hard hit, and state health officials have warned that small community hospitals lack the resources to treat patients with the disease. In Utah, the county that is home to the Park City ski resort reported a similar per capita infection rate to New York and parts of Italy – two major hot spots at the time.
This time around, industry leaders and health officials are hoping the knowledge that comes with months of living during a pandemic will help guide their efforts to deliver a safer experience.
Dr Daniel Pastula, a neuro-infectious disease physician at UC Health University Hospital in Colorado, said the outdoor element of ski travel is generally safe during a pandemic, but the virus could spread. spread if people congregate in places such as ski lift lines, lodges, restaurants and bathrooms.
“I think you can ski smart and safely. Again, it’s not about eliminating the risk entirely, it’s about actually reducing it, ”he said. Pastula listed the now common safety measures skiers should follow, including staying outdoors as much as possible, avoiding crowds and staying home when sick.
Meanwhile, Byrd said the NSAA is taking a close look at how colleges, transportation systems and sports organizations are handling the virus.
“We have the unusual luxury of watching what other people are doing,” he said. “This is all going to play out over the next two to three months, which gives us a bit of time. And we certainly got a glimpse of how the southern hemisphere ski areas in Australia, New Zealand, and South America, how they handled things.
The ski resort of Perisher, near Australia’s far south-east, ended its ski season on October 5 with several restrictions in place after a delayed opening day on June 24.
Employees and guests were required to wear masks and stay at least 1.5 meters apart when in the ski area, which is owned by Colorado-based Vail Resorts. The ski lifts were operating at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and skiers and snowboarders had to purchase their tickets in advance online. The number of guests allowed on the mountain has also been capped depending on the amount of terrain and the number of ski lifts open.
“We enjoyed sensational skiing and boarding while smiling (under masks) from ear to ear!” the station posted on its website, while acknowledging that “the odds were stacked against us” amid the pandemic and intense bushfires that raged across the country the previous summer.
But other seaside resorts in the southern hemisphere have not escaped unscathed.
Hotham Alpine Resort and Falls Creek in northeast Melbourne, Australia closed their lifts on July 9 due to health concerns and have not reopened for the remainder of the ski season. Meanwhile, a number of resorts in South America have also had to scuttle their winter season due to the virus, including the popular Ski Portillo in the Chilean Andes.
“The limitations, including weekend quarantines and travel restrictions, would prevent us from functioning normally,” Portillo owners said on the resort’s website at the end of August.
Many North American ski areas have already consulted with state and local health agencies and published rules for the upcoming season.
Most will require social distancing, masks, and online ticket sales, and will limit the number of people allowed in indoor spaces like base lodges and restaurants. But many take it a step further by requiring reservations, which has annoyed some skiers and snowboarders anxious to carve out a spot on the mountain, especially on busy powder days.
Vail Resorts, which owns 34 resorts in the United States and Canada, has announced the implementation of a reservation system that allows pass holders exclusive early-season access, unlimited bookings per week and select continuous priority days.
Resorts will limit capacity based on past attendance rates, available land, traffic modeling for the upcoming season and how individual resorts handle COVID-19 restrictions, CEO Rob Katz said .
He acknowledged that some customers might not be able to ski and snowboard at all times, but said, “Ultimately in a typical season for most days the capacity of our resorts is at. a level that would not require us to impose limits. “
For many, the reservation system and other restrictions are not enough to keep them at home after being locked away under health orders for most of the year.
During a Sept. 24 results call, Katz reported that season pass sales were up 18% this season compared to the same period last season – a development Byrd credits “the cabin fever effect ‘as winter approaches.
“I think people are looking to ski areas – 470 ski areas in the United States – as a way to have a safe outdoor recreation experience,” he said.
Associated Press editor Lisa Rathke contributed to this report from Marshfield, Vermont.