In open letters published this week, Aspen Skiing Company CEO Mike Kaplan and Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz discuss the reality that the pandemic will be ongoing throughout this winter, operational changes are immanent, and everyone must do their part to ensure there can be a safe winter season.
“To our guests, visitors, employees, and residents: We need your support, compassion and understanding that staying vigilant in our communities now, and in the months ahead, will help us all have a successful winter,” said Katz. “While we cannot completely control the behaviors of visitors, we are committed to enhancing our communications to our guests to ensure they at least understand our expectations of them when they come.”
Referencing guest surveys in which most respondents support necessary operational changes, but a few said Aspen Snowmass should operate as normal this winter, Kaplan said, “I want to be clear: We will only go back to business as usual at the ski areas and in our restaurants and hotels when the science and health experts give us the unanimous ‘all clear.’ Until then, we’ll be serious and vigilant about keeping one another safe. Just like in skiing, we each must take responsibility for our own safety, and absolutely avoid endangering others.”
Read Kaplan’s full letter:
We’re a month into summer here in Aspen Snowmass, and it’s been unlike any the Roaring Fork Valley has ever experienced. The pandemic has been incredibly difficult, but it’s also created valuable new perspectives. Our country is struggling through economic and social disruption not seen in generations. Understandably, many people want a return to “normal”—but perhaps we can do better than that.
On our journey there, we all try to make the best of the current situation. One way is by getting back to the core of what’s important in our lives. For me, being in the mountains, going up and downhill, soaking in nature, getting closer to family and doing whatever I can to help my community have all taken on a heightened importance. As I bike or hike around familiar trails, I’m seeing new things, listening to perspective-shifting podcasts and wondering what our future holds—what will come back and what will be forever changed. Compared to those almost existential questions, the one I’ll attempt to answer here seems pretty straightforward: What’s the plan for the 2020-2021 ski season?
The short answer: We don’t have all the answers yet, but we are doing everything possible to anticipate how to open on time and stay open all winter. Of course, we must do it safely on behalf of our employees, our community, our guests and our partners, which I believe is possible with the right protocols in place. We’re learning valuable lessons during our summer operations, which are going quite smoothly to everyone’s enjoyment. Yes, there will be new procedures this winter, some of them annoying, and a handful of the exuberant social activities we are famous for will be greatly subdued. But there is an overarching opportunity in this new normal that I’m trying to embrace.
Like everything in our lives pre-COVID, skiing and snowboarding had become somewhat frantic. Many of us were caught up in the conquests—tracking our bowl laps and vertical—rather than fully appreciating the moments. I’m looking forward to refocusing on the core of what this sport is all about, what this place enables: a chance to connect deeply—with nature, with our physical selves and movements, and even with our sense of purpose and our roles in society. No doubt, next ski season will be more of an old school experience, but that could also translate to less noise, fewer distractions and, hopefully, more meaning.
The guest surveys we’ve conducted show that most of you are accepting of the necessary operational changes. But to the handful who say we should operate as normal and ignore our public health professionals, I want to be clear: We will only go back to business as usual at the ski areas and in our restaurants and hotels when the science and health experts give us the unanimous “all clear.” Until then, we’ll be serious and vigilant about keeping one another safe. Just like in skiing, we each must take responsibility for our own safety and absolutely avoid endangering others. If we can all own our roles and live them, I know we will open on time and remain open as long as the snow allows. To give you a more specific sense of our plans, I’ll outline a few changes here in addition to the sanitization and containment procedures already in place.
Loading and riding lifts and gondolas will have guidelines that limit contact between unrelated individuals. Social-distancing measures and facial-covering requirements will be in place in all restaurants, ticket offices, ski school facilities and other indoor or congested areas. We are looking at expanding outdoor seating, adding coverage and heat where possible. New technology will allow most transactions to take place online prior to or during each visit, with ticketing, waivers, menus, ordering and payments all moving to digital formats as much as possible. This will allow guests to enjoy more time recreating by getting on the mountain quicker and will limit the need to wait in lines or spend time in congested areas.
We will update you as we learn more and as additional protocols develop and evolve. Between now and winter, we would love to see you in person. But if you can’t make it, please know that we’re thinking about you, hoping you and your loved ones are well, and we are looking forward to welcoming you back here again.
Read Katz’s full letter:
What will the 2020-21 ski and snowboard season look like? We are still in the heat of July – still celebrating the successful opening of our resorts for summer – and that is the number one question we are getting across our 34 North American resorts. What lies ahead for winter? We remain optimistic that we’ll have a great ski season. And we are actively preparing our resorts to ensure our employees and guests have a safe and enjoyable experience this winter amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But we also know that without strong, healthy communities, none of that matters.
We often talk about how our mountain resorts and communities are joined at the hip. We operate in the same ecosystem, we need each other to succeed and survive. The importance of this partnership was evident in the collective effort it took to safely reopen for summer. But that was not the end of the race – it was the beginning. For the sake of winter, we must stay vigilant with safety as our number one priority – now and through the entire winter season. There are two things we collectively must keep top of mind:
1. We cannot get complacent. With the recent COVID-19 resurgence in the United States and around the world, we need to assume that we will still be dealing with the impacts of the virus throughout the winter season. Even if new COVID-19 cases decline – nationally or locally – we must assume the virus will reemerge. We cannot relax restrictions or protocols. We cannot get caught trying to play catch up to the virus during the ski season. We have to remain out front in our approach. Exacerbating that reality is the fact that each one of our communities is a destination for visitors from countless other cities. This is our greatest strength, but it can also be a weakness. We cannot only look at the COVID-19 data in our local communities. By welcoming people to our resorts from other locations we need to realize that we will be taking on their COVID-19 experience as well. Therefore, for us to be successful we need to enforce protocols and procedures now that can work all season.
2. Safety is not optional. At Vail Resorts, we are strong advocates for face coverings and believe that in public gathering spaces – indoors and outdoors – everyone needs to wear a face covering at all times. There should be limited exceptions in areas designated for eating and drinking, but just as other tourist destinations have required, we must ensure that face coverings are not optional if you are walking around with a drink or snack in your hand. We also believe that physical distancing between unrelated parties is a must – which means events or other public gatherings that don’t allow for 6 feet of distancing should be restricted or limited. This goes for gatherings in town and on the mountain. We need to accept that this will likely be the reality for the full season. We are certainly not experts on infectious disease and cannot dictate the local regulations of our communities, but these are simple measures that will contribute to our collective success. And they need to be executed now, so they become ingrained well before the ski season begins.
To our guests, visitors, employees and residents: We need your support, compassion and understanding that staying vigilant in our communities now, and in the months ahead, will help us all have a successful winter. While we cannot completely control the behaviors of visitors, we are committed to enhancing our communications to our guests to ensure they at least understand our expectations of them when they come. We all know enforcement can be a challenge, but with repetition and local alignment, we can ensure people comply and respect this approach to safety.
COVID-19 has significantly impacted every one of our mountain resort communities. The closure of our resorts in March came with a heavy financial and human cost to our company, as well as to so many businesses and people throughout the towns, cities, counties, provinces and states where we operate. In the midst of these challenges, it has been inspiring to see how everyone has come together to support one another and help chart a course forward. We cannot lose that momentum.
All of us want to protect our local economies and our communities. All of us want a great ski and snowboard season. To make that a reality – all of us must remain vigilant. Together, let’s set a tone and demonstrate that we are leaders in offering the safest and most enjoyable experience, anywhere in the world.