US ski resorts adapt
DENVER — Helmet, goggles, skis? Check. Hand sanitizer, face covering, reservation? Check.
Roughly 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 of the details are still being worked out, resort leaders are asking guests to curb their expectations and to embrace a new normal while skiing and snowboarding amid a pandemic.
That could mean wearing masks, standing 6 feet apart in lift lines (about the length of a typical ski), no dine-in service, riding lifts only with your group and no large gatherings for an apres 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 ultraviolet sun and in the wind, and it’s common for us to wear goggles, gloves and face coverings. All of those things bode very well for us as a sport.”
Resorts, some of which are set to open at the beginning of November, are trying to avoid a repeat of last spring when many mountain communities were disproportionately hurt by the virus as travelers from all over the country and the world hit the slopes during one of the busiest times of the season.
Several counties in Colorado that are home to some of the country’s largest and most popular ski resorts were particularly hard-hit, and state health officials warned that small community hospitals didn’t have the resources to treat patients with the disease. In Utah, the county that calls Park City ski resort home reported a per-capita infection rate similar to New York City 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 several months of life during a pandemic will help guide their efforts to provide a safer experience.
Dr. Daniel Pastula, a neuroinfectious disease physician at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital, said the outdoor element of ski trips is generally safe during a pandemic, but the virus could spread if people congregate in places such as lift lines, lodges, restaurants and bathrooms.
“I think you can ski smartly and safely. Again, not completely eliminating the risk, but really reducing it,” he said. Pastula listed now-common safety measures for skiers to follow, among them staying outdoors as much as possible, avoiding crowds and staying home when sick.
Meanwhile, Byrd said the NSAA is looking closely at how colleges, transportation systems and sports organizations are handling the virus.
“We do have the unusual luxury of watching what others do,” he said. “All of that is going to play out over the next two to three months, which, nicely gives us some time. And we certainly got to preview how the southern hemisphere ski areas in Australia and New Zealand and South America, how they handled things.”
Perisher Ski Resort near the far southeastern edge of Australia completed its ski season Oct. 5 with several restrictions in place after a delayed June 24 opening day.
Employees and guests were required to wear masks and stay at least 5 feet from each other while at the ski area, which is owned by Colorado-based Vail Resorts. Lifts were run at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and skiers and snowboarders were required to buy tickets in advance online. The number of guests allowed on the mountain also was capped based on the amount of terrain and the number of lifts that were open.