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American resorts are adapting to the new norm of skiing in the midst of pandemics

DENVER (AP) – Helmet, goggles, skis? Check. Hand cleaning, face covering, reservation? Check.

About seven months after the coronavirus shortened the ski season at the height of the 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 embrace a new normal while skiing and snowboarding in a pandemic.

This can mean wearing masks, standing 1

.8 meters apart in lift lines (about the length of a typical ski), no dining room, only elevators with your group and no large gatherings for an after-drink.

“We are very optimistic about skiing this winter,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulation at the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. “The fact that we ski outside in ultraviolet sun and in the wind, and it is common for us to wear goggles, gloves and face covers. All of these things bode very well for us as a sport. ”

Resorts, some of which are open in early November, are trying to avoid a recurrence from last spring, when many mountain communities were disproportionately injured by the virus when travelers from across the country and the world hit the slopes during one of the busiest times of the season.

Several counties in Colorado, home to some of the country’s largest and most popular ski resorts, were particularly hard hit, and state health officials warned that small hospitals did not have the resources to treat patients with the disease. In Utah, the county, which calls the Park City ski resort home, reported an infection rate per capita. Population similar to New York City and parts of Italy – two major hot spots at the time.

This time, industry leaders and health officials hope that the knowledge that comes with months of life during a pandemic will help guide their efforts to provide a safer experience.

Dr. Daniel Pastula, a neuroinfectionist at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital, said the outdoor element of skiing is generally safe during a pandemic, but the virus can spread if people gather in places like lift lines, cabins, restaurants and bathrooms.

“I think you can ski smartly and safely. Again, not completely eliminating the risk, but really reducing it, ”he said. Pastula now listed common safety precautions for skiers to follow, among them staying as much as possible outdoors, avoiding crowds and staying home when sick.

Meanwhile, Byrd said the NSAA is looking closely at how colleges, transportation systems and sports organizations handle the virus.

“We have the extraordinary luxury of seeing what others do,” he said. “All of this is going to play out over the next two to three months, which nicely gives us some time. And we certainly got an example of how the Southern Hemisphere ski areas of Australia and New Zealand and South America, how they handled things. ”

Perisher Ski Resort near the southeastern edge of Australia ended its skiing season on 5 October with several restrictions in place following a delayed opening day on 24 June.

Staff and guests were required to wear masks and stay at least 1.5 meters apart while in the ski area, which is owned by Colorado-based Vail Resorts. Elevators were driven with reduced capacity to allow for social distance, and skiers and snowboarders were required to purchase tickets in advance online. The number of guests allowed on the mountain was also limited based on the amount of terrain and the number of open lifts.

“We enjoyed sensational skiing and boarding all while smiling (under masks) ear to ear!” resort published on its website, while acknowledging that “the odds were against us” due to the pandemic and the intense brush fires that raged across the country the previous summer.

But other resorts in the southern hemisphere did not escape unscathed.

Hotham Alpine Resort and Falls Creek northeast of Melbourne, Australia closed their lifts on July 9 due to health restrictions and did not reopen for the rest of the ski season. Meanwhile, a number of resorts in South America also had to shoot their winter season due to the virus, including the popular Ski Portillo high in the Chilean Andes.

“Restrictions, including weekend quarantines and travel restrictions, would prevent us from operating normally,” Portillo’s owners posted on the resort’s website in late August.

Many North American ski areas have already consulted with state and local health agencies and issued 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 such as base cabins and restaurants. But many go a step further by requiring reservations, which has annoyed some skiers and snowboarders who are worried about getting a place on the mountain, especially during busy powder days.

Vail Resorts, which owns 34 resorts in the U.S. and Canada, has announced it will implement a reservation system that gives pass holders exclusive access at the start of the season, unlimited weekly reservations for weeks and a rolling selection of priority days.

Resorts will limit capacity based on past visitor rates, available terrain, traffic modeling in the coming season, and how individual resorts handle COVID-19 constraints, said CEO Rob Katz.

He acknowledged that some guests may not be able to ski and snowboard at any time, but said, “the bottom line is that the capacity of our resorts in a typical season for most days is at a level that does not require us to be have to impose some limits. ”

For many, the reservation system and other restrictions are not enough to keep them at home after being co-opted under health orders for most of the year.

During a earnings call on September 24, Katz reported that season pass sales were 18% higher this season compared to the same time last season – a development that Byrd attributed to the “cabin fever effect” heading into winter.

“I think people look at the ski resorts – 470 ski resorts in the United States – as a way to have a safe outdoor recreational experience,” he said.


Associated Press author Lisa Rathke contributed to this report from Marshfield, Vermont.

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