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When it comes to the 2020-21 ski season, if you relay just three things to clients, it should be this: Book early, practice safety guidelines and have patience.
Although ski destinations throughout the U.S. have had to make adjustments to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines as they open for the winter season, the industry is well-positioned to operate safely during the pandemic. Besides taking place in the great outdoors and generally allowing for easy distancing over large swaths of land, the sport already requires protective face coverings such as masks and goggles. And, thanks to outside decks, the beloved pastime of apres ski remains alive and well.
Of course, safety is of the utmost importance to American ski resorts, which are taking care to operate with a mindset of “Ski Well, Be Well,” a mantra coined by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) to support a thoughtful return to outdoor winter recreation. Developed by an advisory group of ski industry leaders, the Ski Well, Be Well operational best practices are based on scientific guidelines from experts, and can be adapted and scaled to any ski locale and its unique needs.
Here’s what advisors need to know when booking clients for the winter 2020-21 ski season.
Plan AheadThe No. 1 piece of advice any ski resort executive will offer is to book early. Because ski areas are adhering to social distancing guidelines, there may be capacity limits on the number of people allowed on a mountain each day, along with occupancy maximums for lodging and restaurants. Additionally, this year, most resorts require advance purchase of lift tickets, rentals and ski school lessons, and they will prioritize pass holders.
At destinations such as Park City, Utah, and Vail, Colo. — which were just ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 ski resorts in America, respectively, by vacation rental marketplace Koala — this means pass holders receive exclusive early season access, and lift tickets will not be sold on a given day if pass holders reserve all the spots during the initial priority reservation day booking window.
“For the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to,” said Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, which manages resorts including Vail and Park City. “However, we are not planning for the majority of days; we are planning for every day of the season. We want to provide assurance to our guests that we will do our very best to minimize crowds at all times — be it a holiday weekend or the unpredictable powder day. We believe this approach will help ensure a safe experience for everyone, while prioritizing access for our pass holders.”
At California’s Mammoth Mountain, same-day lift tickets will not be available, but contactless rentals allow visitors to book their rental/demo gear ahead of time and have it waiting in a locker at the main lodge. Accommodations will be capped at 70% occupancy; requests for lessons are anticipated to increase; and dining rules and restrictions continue to change, so the destination recommends booking well in advance.
Pro tip: If clients are not already pass holders at their favored ski destination, demonstrate the value of becoming one, as it will better allow them to reserve the powder days they want. For example, Epic Pass holders can reserve Priority Reservation Days before lift tickets go on sale and can choose pass options that include holiday dates. Additionally, Epic Coverage is now included free for all Epic passholders for the upcoming season; it provides refunds associated with illness, job loss, injury and certain resort closures, such as any due to COVID-19. (Note: Epic Pass and all pass products goes off sale on Dec. 6.)
Practice Slope SafetyClients can rest assured knowing ski destinations are operating according to the NSAA’s best practices, which were developed based on state and local public health orders and CDC guidelines. Ski area staff will be trained in COVID-19 safety and disinfection protocols, engage in wellness checks and enforce physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings.
Many areas have also adopted technologies that reduce personal contact between employees and guests, such as touchless payment, advance online purchasing and radio frequency scanning of tickets and passes.
Generally, clients should assume proper protocols are in place but be aware that they could change as pandemic guidelines change.
The pandemic must be taken seriously, with each of us owning our behavior and making smart choices to keep our season alive through April.
“Given Big Sky’s uniquely vast 5,850 acres of skiing, we currently do not intend to enforce firm caps on daily visitation,” said Troy Nedved, general manager for Montana’s Big Sky Resort. “However, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to get open and stay open safely. Therefore, we have tools in place to manage daily visitation if it becomes necessary. The pandemic must be taken seriously, with each of us owning our behavior and making smart choices to keep our season alive through April.”
Like other resorts, Big Sky will ensure chairlift operations run smoothly and safely, which isn’t difficult, given the nature of lifts: According to the NSAA, physical distancing in lift queues occurs organically due to the length of skis and snowboards; lift rides are generally just five to 10 minutes long; lifts travel between 5 and 17 mph, creating constant one-way directional airflow; and chairs are typically spaced 50 or more feet apart. Additionally, most destinations will require traveling parties to ride together, or will offer distanced options for single riders.
It should go without saying that clients are expected to respect the health and safety of other visitors on the mountain, wearing a mask and adhering to all distancing requirements, washing their hands often and staying home if they feel sick.
Pro tip: Stacie Mesuda, manager of public relations for Big Sky Resort, advises carrying a backup mask when skiing. Buffs will likely be cold and wet by the time clients head inside, so they’ll be happy to have a dry, warm mask in their pocket.
Be PatientDo your research online so that you can best support clients as you help them plan their winter getaway, but encourage them to browse the ski area’s website beforehand as well, so they know exactly what to expect. Remind them that just as they have had to adjust to a pandemic and ever-changing protocols, ski areas, too, have had to tweak their operations. While the nature of winter sports makes a ski trip a safer travel option, there will inevitably be snags, so patience is a necessity.
Pro tip: Brainstorm creative ways travelers can minimize frustration with lines or shortages. For example, Mammoth Mountain is anticipating an increase in road-trippers this year, so the destination recommends buying groceries in advance.
The DetailsBig Sky Resortwww.bigskyresort.com
National Ski Areas Associationwww.nsaa.org