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US resorts adapt to the new normal skiing amid the pandemic



DENVER (AP) – Helmets, goggles, skis? Check Hand sanitizer, mask, booking? Check

Nearly seven months after the coronavirus cut off the ski season at the height of the spring break, resorts across the United States and Canada are slowly picking up the pieces and figuring out how to safely reopen the winter. While many of the details are still being worked out, resort leaders are asking guests to hold back their expectations and embrace a new normal while skiing and snowboarding in the middle of a pandemic.

That means wearing masks, standing 6 feet (1

.8 meters) apart from lift lines (almost the length of a typical ski), no lunch service, just riding in your group and no big gatherings for an apres drink.

“We are very optimistic about skiing this winter,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and activities management at the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. “The fact that we ski outdoors in the ultraviolet sun and in the wind, and we usually wear goggles, gloves and masks. All of those things are great for us as a sport. “

Resorts, some of which are scheduled to open in early November, are trying to avoid a recurrence of last spring if many undeveloped mountain communities are affected by the virus while travelers from across the country and the world will hit the slopes during one of the busiest times of the season.

Many counties in Colorado home to some of the largest and most popular ski resorts in the country have been particularly damaged, and state health officials have warned that small community hospitals do not have the resources to treat patients with sick. In Utah, the province that called the Park City ski resort home reported a per-capita infection rate similar to that of New York City and parts of Italy – two major hot spots at the time.

At this time, industry leaders and health officials hope that the knowledge that comes with many months of life during a pandemic will help guide their efforts to provide a safer experience.

Dr. Daniel Pastula, a neuroinfectious disease physician at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital, says the external element of ski trips is usually safe during a pandemic, but the virus can spread if people gather stockpile in areas such as lift lines, rooms, restaurants and bathrooms

“I think you can ski smart and safe. Again, it does not completely eliminate the risk, but it does really reduce it, “he said. Pastula is now listed as common safety measures for skiers to follow, in addition to staying out as much as possible, avoid audience and stay home when sick.

Byrd, meanwhile, said the NSAA is looking closely at how colleges, transportation systems and sports organizations are handling the virus.

“We have a unique luxury of watching what others do,” he said. “All of that will play out over the next two to three months, which, well, gives us some time. And we certainly got a glimpse of how the southern ski hemisphere ski area in Australia and New Zealand and South America, how they handled the things. “

Perisher Ski Resort near the far southeast of Australia completed the ski season on October 5 with numerous restrictions on the area after a delayed opening day of June 24.

Employees and guests are required to wear masks and stay at least 5 feet (1.5 meters) from each other while in the ski area, which is owned by Vail Resorts based in Colorado. Lifts are operated at reduced capacity to allow for social distance, and skiers and snowboarders are required to purchase tickets in advance online. The number of guests allowed on the mountain was also capped based on the amount of land and the number of elevators open.

“We enjoyed the spectacular skiing and riding while smiling (under the masks) in the ear!” the resort posted on its website, while also acknowledging that “the odds are against us” due to the pandemic and severe fire that started across the country last summer.

But other resorts in the southern hemisphere have not escaped unharmed.

Hotham Alpine Resort and Falls Creek northeast of Melbourne, Australia closed their lifts on July 9 due to health restrictions and were not reopened for the rest of the ski season. Meanwhile, many South American resorts also had to save their winter time due to the virus, including the famous Ski Portillo high in the Chilean Andes.

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

Many skiing areas in North America have already consulted with state and local health agencies and have issued guidelines for the upcoming season.

Most will require social distance, masks and online ticket sales, and will limit how many people are allowed in indoor spaces such as base lodges and restaurants. But many go one step further by asking for reservations, which angered some skiers and snowboarders who were worried about getting somewhere in the mountains, especially on busy powder days.

Vail Resorts, which owns 34 resorts in the United States and Canada, has announced that it will implement a reservation system that allows pass holders exclusive access at the beginning of the season, unlimited weeks -of reservations and a rolling selection of appreciation days.

Resorts will limit capacity based on past visit rates, available terrain, future traffic modeling, and how individual resorts will handle COVID-19 restrictions, CEO Rob Katz said .

He acknowledged that some guests may not be able to ski and snowboard anytime they wish but said, “the consequence is, is at a normal time for several days, the capacity of our resorts is at a level not we will be asked to impose any restrictions. “

For many, the reservation system and other restrictions are not enough to keep them home after being incarcerated under health orders for more than a year.

During an earnings call on Sept. 24, Katz reported that sales of season passes reached 18% this season compared to the same time last season – a development Byrd attributed to the “impact of fever in the cabin “towards 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.

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


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