08012020 Staying safe on the mountain

Weston Gould, of Oakdale, Conn., rides his mountain bike over the bridge across the snowmaking pond by Snowshed Lodge on Thursday afternoon at the Killington Mountain Bike Park. Winter resorts like Killington that have a mountain bike program will be more prepared for operating in the COVID-19 environment this winter.

If Vermonters want to see a ski season this winter, they’ll need to stay the course when it comes to COVID-19 precautions, say voices in the industry.

“There are states who have done well, Vermont especially, and if we’re going to have a ski season, we need to keep our numbers down and the way to do that is pretty simple — wear a mask,” said Geoff Hathaway, president of Magic Mountain Ski Resort in Londonderry. “It’s probably the easiest thing we can do to protect each other and to look out for our neighbors and to help small businesses stay open.”

Hathaway said Thursday he has communicated this sentiment through emails to Magic Mountain’s regular guests and via social media.

“What I’ve been trying to emphasize to people is, how they behave and how they act and how we go about interacting with each other now will basically lead to whether we’re going to have a ski season or not, and how restricted the ski season will be,” he said.

On Thursday, the Vermont Department of Health’s website reported the state has had 1,407 cases of COVID-19 and a total of 57 deaths. The first death in six weeks was announced Thursday as well. Meanwhile, national media reports have infections on the rise in other parts of the country, many in the South but also in California and Arizona.

In an open letter published Wednesday, Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, which owns Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Mount Snow in Dover, and Stowe Mountain Resort in Stowe, along with 31 other resorts across North America, urged against relaxing COVID-19 protocols.

Katz stated that Vail Resorts are preparing to operate a ski season with the pandemic in mind, taking precautions for the health and safety of guests and staff alike, “But we also know that without strong, healthy communities, none of that matters.”

He said people can’t become complacent and assume the virus is no longer a problem.

“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,” he wrote. “Even if new COVID-19 cases decline — nationally or locally — we must assume the virus will reemerge.”

He indicated that masks or facial coverings will be required at Vail Resorts throughout the coming winter season, and events and activities that don’t allow for adequate social distancing between unrelated parties would be limited.

“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,” he stated. “And they need to be executed now, so they become ingrained well before the ski season begins.”

Right now, it’s not certain what Vermont’s ski season will look like, said Adam White, director of communications at Vermont Ski Areas Association (Ski Vermont). What happens and what the guidelines and rules will be depends on what the coronavirus does not only in Vermont but elsewhere.

White said that while ski resorts, their operations being beholden to the famously fickle weather, are nimble and can adapt to sudden changes, they are complex and prefer a certain degree of certainty that’s not present right now.

That said, many are optimistic this will be a good ski season.

White said the theory is that the pandemic will have fewer people interested in flying or taking long trips and will be looking for things to do within a three or four hour drive. Vermont and its resorts are within the “drive market” of large metro areas like New York City and Boston.

“I think it’s going to be a good year,” said Hathaway. “We’ve sold the most season passes we’ve ever sold, so I think people are ready to go skiing. They appreciate what we’re trying to do.”

From the looks of things now, he said, visitors will be largely local or from the New England area.

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