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US resorts are adjusting to the new normal of skiing amid the pandemic

DENVER (AP) – Helmet, goggles, skis? Check. Hand sanitizer, face cover, reservation? Check.

About seven months after the coronavirus disrupted ski season at the height of spring break, resorts in 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 rein in their expectations and embrace a new normal as they ski and snowboard amid a pandemic.

This could mean wearing goggles, standing 6 feet (1

.8 meters) apart in lift lines (about the length of a typical ski), no food service, lifts riding only with your group, and no large gathering for an apres drink.

“We’re very optimistic about skiing this winter,” said Dave Byrd, director of regulatory and risk affairs at the Colorado-based National Ski Area Association. “The fact that we ski outdoors in the ultraviolet sun and in the wind, and it’s common for us to wear goggles, gloves and face covers. All of these things bode well for us as a sport.”

The resorts, some of which will open in early November, are trying to avoid a repeat of last spring, when many mountain communities were disproportionately affected by the virus as travelers from across the country and the world hit the slopes. during one of the busiest times of the season.

Several Colorado counties that are home to some of the largest and most popular ski resorts in the country were particularly affected, and state health authorities warned that small community hospitals lacked the resources to treat patients with the disease. In Utah, the county that is home to the Park City ski resort reported a per capita infection rate similar to that of New York City and parts of Italy, two of the major hotspots at the time.

This time around, industry leaders and health officials hope that the knowledge that comes from several months of living during a pandemic will help guide their efforts to provide a safer experience.

Dr Daniel Pastula, a physician who specializes in neuroinfectious diseases at UC Health University of Colorado hospital, said the outdoor element of skiing is generally safe during a pandemic, but the virus could spread if people they congregate in places like ski lifts, shelters, restaurants, and bathrooms.

“I think you can ski intelligently and safely. Again, not completely eliminating the risk, but actually reducing it, “he said. Pastula listed the now common safety measures for skiers to follow, including staying outdoors as much as possible, avoiding crowds and staying at home. when they get sick.

Meanwhile, Byrd said the NSAA is closely examining how universities, transportation systems and sports organizations manage the virus.

“We have the unusual luxury of watching what others are doing,” he said. “All of this will take place over the next two or three months, which gives us a lot of time. And we certainly got a preview of how the Southern Hemisphere ski areas in Australia, New Zealand and South America have handled things. “

Perisher ski resort near the southeastern tip of Australia completed its ski season on 5 October with several restrictions in place following a delayed opening day on 24 June.

Employees and guests were required to wear goggles and stand at least 1.5 meters from each other while in the ski area, owned by Colorado-based Vail Resorts. The lifts were operated at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and skiers and snowboarders had to purchase tickets in advance online. The number of guests allowed on the mountain was also limited based on the amount of land and the number of lifts open.

“We enjoyed sensational skiing and boarding as we smiled (under the masks) from ear to ear!” the resort posted on its website, while acknowledging that “the odds were against us” due to the pandemic and intense fires that raged across the country the previous summer.

But other locations in the southern hemisphere did not escape unscathed.

Hotham Alpine Resort and Falls Creek northeast of Melbourne, Australia closed their lifts on July 9 due to health restrictions and did not reopen for the remainder of the ski season. Meanwhile, a number of locations in South America also had to sink the winter season due to the virus, including the famous Ski Portillo in the Chilean Andes.

“Restrictions, including weekend quarantines and travel restrictions, would prevent us from functioning normally,” Portillo owners posted on the resort’s website in late August.

Many ski areas in North America have already consulted with state and local health agencies and have issued rules for next season.

Most will require social distances, masks and online ticketing and will limit the number of people allowed in indoor spaces such as lodges and restaurants. But many are taking it a step further by requesting reservations, which has bothered some skiers and snowboarders worried about finding a spot in the mountains, especially during intense powder days.

Vail Resorts, which owns 34 resorts in the US and Canada, has announced that it will implement a reservation system that allows pass holders exclusive early season access, unlimited weeks of bookings, and a continuous selection of priority days.

Resorts will limit capacity based on past visit rates, available land, next season’s traffic patterns and how individual resorts handle COVID-19 restrictions, CEO Rob Katz said.

He acknowledged that some guests may not be able to ski and snowboard as often as they want, but said, “The bottom line is that in a typical season for most days, the capacity at our resorts is at one point. level that would not require us to impose limits. “

For many, the reservation system and other restrictions are not enough to keep them at home after they have been incarcerated for most of the year.

During an earnings call on Sept. 24, Katz reported that season pass sales have increased by 18% this season compared to the same period last season, a development Byrd attributed to the upcoming “cabin fever effect”. in winter.

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


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

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