American ski resorts are clamping down hard on the virus with a more stringent approach than in Europe
Travel across the Pond continues to be off the cards for British skiers and snowboarders and it remains to be seen if ski holidays in America will be possible this winter. But as anticipation for the season grows ski resorts in the States have announced the new rules that will be in place.
Vail Resorts, which operates 37 ski resorts across the globe including 34 in North America, such as Vail, Breckenridge and Park City, as well as Whistler Blackcomb, Canada’s largest resort, will introduce some of the most stringent measures in the world in order to reopen safely.
In an open letter to its customers CEO of Vail Resorts Rob Katz, who back in June confessed “it is not a race to reopen,” said: “There is nothing I am looking forward to more than being back on the mountain, back on snow, back on skis – and I know I am not alone.”
“We are fortunate that our core experience of skiing and riding takes place outdoors, across huge mountains, offering fresh air and wide-open spaces for our guests. However, to help protect our guests, our employees and our communities amid this pandemic, some changes will be required this season.”
Ahead of its first resort, Keystone in Colorado, opening on November 6 the resort giant has revealed a comprehensive list of rules that will be brought in across its resorts. It includes the mandatory wearing of masks “to get on to the mountain and in all parts of resort operations.” This includes when queuing for and riding on lifts, in all buildings and during ski lessons.
The rules are very clear: “No one will be permitted on the mountain without a face covering.”
In a bold move, Vail Resorts will also be limiting capacity on the mountain, people will have to reserve a space before they arrive and priority will be given to existing pass holders – meaning last-minute bookings following heavy snowfall might be in high-demand.
“The good news is that we operate many of the largest mountain resorts in North America, and for the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to,” said Katz.
It will be operating an industry-leading reservation system, where skiers and snowboarders must book their time on the slopes. No lift passes will be sold in the usual stations in resorts, these will be saved for collection of pre-purchased tickets only.
Vail Resorts operates the multi-resort Epic pass, which covers over 75 resorts across the globe – the largest of its kind. In the 34 North American resorts which it also owns Epic pass holders will be prioritised. As well as week-long reservations they will be able to book up to seven individual ‘Priority Reservation Days’ ahead of the general public.
Public lift tickets for those who do not hold an Epic pass will go on sale on December 8, and must be purchased for a specific resort on a specific date, in order to manage capacity.
The future of ski school in Vail’s resorts is also altered, with mandatory health screenings in place for both pupils and instructors. “All participants will be required to undergo and confirm an online self-health screening prior to arriving at the mountain for their lesson,” confirmed Katz.
Class sizes will also be limited to a maximum of six people and lessons will need to be booked in advance, which will automatically grant access to the mountain, but an eligible lift pass will be required as usual.
Social distancing will be enforced on lifts too. People will only be able to ride a chairlift or in a gondola with others from their household. Solo skiers and riders will be able to share with one other, but seated at opposite sides of the lift.
The rules are significantly more stringent than those that have been announced in France and Austria. In both Alpine nations there won’t be a limit on the number of people allowed on the slopes at one time, masks will only be compulsory when meeting for ski lessons, not while on the slopes, and no health screening processes have been announced. However après-ski will be significantly curtailed, with bars and restaurants operating table service only.
“I realise not everyone will agree with our approach – some feeling we are being too conservative or aggressive,” said Katz.
However he stands by the decision to implement blanket rules across resorts in an effort to be consistent, explaining: “Given how fluid and ever-changing the situation with Covid-19 is, it has also been our goal to design an approach that can remain in place for all of this season. We do not want to be caught off guard or find ourselves needing to make reactive changes.”
The common thread across the continents is the lack of après-ski planned for this season. “We do not believe convening in a traditional bar setting, anywhere in resort or throughout our communities, is safe amid Covid-19,” said Katz. Instead in Vail’s resorts there will be packaged beer and wine for sale, but no full-service bars will be in operation, on or off the mountain.
The number of cases of coronavirus in America has surpassed 7,367,000, President Trump tested positive last week and the country’s borders are currently closed.