US resorts adapt to new normal of skiing amid pandemic

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DENVER (AP) — 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 (1.8 meters) 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.

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 how many people are allowed in indoor spaces like base lodges and restaurants. But many are going a step further by requiring reservations, which has irked some skiers and snowboarders concerned about getting a spot on the mountain, especially during busy powder days.

Resorts will limit capacity based on past visitation rates, available terrain, traffic modeling of the upcoming season, and how individual resorts handle COVID-19 restrictions, CEO Rob Katz said.

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

For many, the reservation system and other restrictions are not enough to keep them home after being cooped up under health orders for the greater part of a year.

During a Sept. 24 earnings call, Katz reported that sales of season passes were up 18% this season compared to the same time last season — a development Byrd attributed to “the cabin fever effect” heading into the winter.

“I think people are looking to the ski areas — 470 ski areas in the United States — as a way to have a safe outdoor recreational experience,” he said.

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

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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