Hello friends! It’s been a while — just over 2 months — since I posted anything.
In a world as tumultuous as this one, when we are grappling with truly life and death issues on several fronts, writing about skiing felt a bit trivial.
Just moments ago, however, I got off a Zoom call sponsored by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA). It was an information session featuring:
- Patricia A. Campbell, President, Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division;
- Kelly Pawlak, President/CEO of National Ski Areas Associataion (NSAA);
- Nick Sargent, President of Snowsports Industries America (SIA), and
- Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management (SAM) magazine.
So if you’re wondering what will ski season 2020-2021 look like and how COVID-19 will impact skiing, here are the top takeaways.
Winter: Not Just for Skiing
While many of us love, live for, and are possibly obsessed with resort-based, alpine skiing, there are other ways to enjoy winter. Think winter running, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, hiking, sledding, tubing, and so on.
While these activities might not be your first choice, if resort operations are limited, these are rewarding ways to get outside, maintain social distance, and enjoy fun times with your family.
Maybe you’ve already thought about this, or perhaps you experienced this first-hand when the resorts shut down but winter continued: our family found ourselves doing a lot more cross-country skiing than normal, choosing off-hours, and lesser-known trails.
Did we miss alpine skiing? Heck yes. We hated that the season came to such an abrupt end, torpedoing our spring plans. But we clearly understood the concern and health risks and gladly chose more safe activities.
Ask yourself and your children, what winter activities can you substitute for alpine skiing and still enjoy winter? You’ll likely come up with a surprisingly long list to help blunt potential disappointment.
Winter on Preview in the Southern Hemisphere
Kelly Pawlak, CEO of NSAA, reassures that all aspects of resort operation are being evaluated, dissected, and improved upon to meet social distancing and health-related requirements come winter. She put it something like this, “For every aspect of resort operations, our members have plans — like five different plans — depending upon what happens.”
Please know, ski resorts want to open and they want life to get back to normal as much as each one of us. But aside from their operations, they don’t control much — especially not guest behavior.
It’s ski season in New Zealand, Australia and South America. Starting closest to home, South America is closed. Las Lenas and Valle Nevado in Chile will not open this year. Portillo is on an indefinite hold.
New Zealand, on the other hand, quickly eradicated COVID-19 from their shores and life on the slopes is said to be largely back to normal — with some government restrictions. New Zealand is serious about keeping COVID-19 at bay and this means ski resort patrons have to be serious about it as well.
Australia is somewhere in the middle, with resorts operating largely as Arapahoe Basin did when they reopened in late May. Think reservations, limited guests, very few services. Thredbo, which is sometimes described as the Aspen of Australia took the serious step of cancelling and refunding all season passes before opening. Thredbo then moved to an all-reservation system. Demand was high and all daily tickets are currently sold out through August 30, the anticipated closing day.
Lots of Luck
If anything gives me pause about the upcoming season, it’s the luck factor.
Will we be able to ski? Will COVID-19 be on a downward, rather than an upward, trajectory? Will it snow?
We skiers already deal with “luck of the weather,” rolling the snow condition dice every time we book a ski trip outside of our home mountain or area. Even powder days are luck dependent and nothing pays off as big as finding ourselves in unexpected chest-deep powder on a Monday.
For me, that’s enough luck injected into my skiing. Thus, the idea of competing to score daily lift tickets with thousands of other skiers and riders just flat out seems discouraging.
But if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. And discouraged or not, we will still be competing for tickets.
And on the plus side, early reports from ski resorts offering downhill biking are that the reservation systems are working well and operations are going smoothly. Fingers crossed.
Expect COVID-19 Health Guidelines
If you’re someone who doesn’t like the idea of masks (c’mon, all skiers wear masks!), or mandatory temperature checks, or limitations on shuttle bus capacity, or mandatory reservations for lunch, and so on, this season could be challenging.
I’m pretty much a compliant person. I own that. Tell me to wear a mask and wash my hands and I’ll do double what’s asked. That’s just me. But even I sometimes have coronavirus fatigue and the idea of all of these additional measures and restrictions is depressing. Yes, depressing — which is not an emotion I’ve ever associated with skiing!
So what to do? Right now, there’s not much. Like the resorts themselves, we skiers are in “wait and see” mode. We’ve got to wait and see where cases spike, where they subside, what hospital capacity looks like, and so on.
As you may recall, mountain towns, at least in Colorado, don’t have robust medical systems, which was one of the reasons Colorado resorts were abruptly closed by our governor. Come winter, the hospital situation won’t have changed. But maybe the overall health situation will have changed — for the better.
And we can each do our part to help the situation change for the better. As NASJA’s President Jeff Blumenfeld said upon closing our meeting, “wear your mask and wash your hands.”
It’s the least we can do, for ourselves, our families and for skiing.
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