Will Skiing be the Pandemic Savour?

Skiing could be the Pandemic Savour as long as resorts and mountain towns don’t experience serious outbreaks. In North America the industry has responded to the closures from last spring when the season came to a halt with plans to operate safely this season.

Leaders in the winter sports industry have worked to ensure that measures such as mask mandates and social distancing are in place. A limited number of guests are allowed each day and many resorts require guests to reserve their days on the slopes ahead of time.

Fast forward to December, resorts are open and the coronavirus is out-of-control in North America, and now the effectiveness of these industry policies will be tested. In Europe the resorts are closed for the holiday season in an effort to control the pandemic. Canadian ski resort operators have been trying to balance profits with protecting the health of their staff and guests.

In Canada the mountain town of Revelstoke BC is experiencing an outbreak that has been traced to non-essential out-of-province travel. BC Health is recommending against non-essential travel and that includes skiing and vacationing in general. At this time it’s only a recommendation against non-essential travel with compliance based on common sense, empathy and respect. Revelstoke Mountain Resort remains open at this time.

Lake Louise, Alberta, confirmed it had a COVID-19 outbreak last week and the resort stated it will remain open. Alberta has a record of Trumpian like policies with respect to coronavirus and person freedoms. According to a statement sent last Friday by Alberta Health Services, Lake Louise Ski Resort reported six cases overall, with four recovered and two remaining active.

Alterra Mountain Company and Vail Resorts are the resort professionals and the biggest players in the skiing and snowboarding industry. They released their plan for the season months ago. Vail Resorts owned Whistler Blackcomb opened for the season last week with responsible pandemic protocols in place, great snow conditions and 1,430 acres of skiable terrain. Traffic volumes were not disclosed however estimated at being 30% of normal capacity.

Whistler has seen roughly 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and mostly in the past few weeks, reported Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) on December 2nd in its first public acknowledgement of the total number of cases in the resort. “The wave in coastal rural is almost exclusively due to cases in Whistler, where we have in the last four to five weeks experienced a number of cases among young, working adults,” explained VCH chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly.

This season, both Alterra and Vail prioritize season pass holders, their most loyal customers. Season pass sales allow resorts to lock in revenue, which brings them some stability as the season starts.

Resorts will sell single-day lift tickets, but they are limiting the total number of daily visitors, according to Rusty Gregory, Alterra’s chief executive officer (above). Numerous data sets are considered to decide how many tickets can be sold. Planners take into account the number of season passes sold, where the passholders live, what resorts they’ve visited in the past, the type of terrain at each mountain, and snow conditions.

“We can run algorithms against that to determine within some reasonable degree of accuracy, how many pass holders are likely to show up on a given day,” Gregory said. “Then we take the reduced capacities that we’re holding ourselves to, to make sure that people can maintain adequate social distancing, and we put all that together.”

Will Skiing be the Pandemic Savour? Hopefully the holiday ski season in North America lives up to the ideals and planning of the industry and doesn’t require closures like those in Europe. The unknown variable will be the common sense, empathy and respect that skiers exhibit as they chase their essential activity.