After a long week of school, Brodie Sparrow packs up his ski equipment on a Friday night in preparation for a weekend of skiing.
“With COVID-19 and everything going on, there is not much to do around campus,” Sparrow, a college student at Colorado State University said. “Skiing has been a real highlight of the semester for me.”
Ski resorts were forced to shut down operations at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. The continuing COVID-19 pandemic loomed uncertainty over the start of the 2020/2021 ski season but ski resorts have been able to operate, just under different conditions than usual.
After months of spending time indoors because of lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19, people are eager to get outdoors. The boost in the number of people skiing this year closely follows the trend of people escaping to the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nationally, ski resorts have had to implement safety restrictions to keep visitors safe and to stay open. After having to close early last season, ski resorts and their guests have been eager to keep the season safe.
“The safety protocols have been easy to follow and as a result all of the mountains have been staying open,” Sparrow said.
Following the same basic guidelines, resorts have adopted their own safety protocols that best suit their mountain. Colorado ski resorts like Eldora and Copper Mountain have implemented parking reservations to limit the amount of people who go to the mountain. Arapahoe Basin and Winter Park require guests to reserve a ski spot in order to come to the mountain while Utah ski Resort Alta, does not require any type of reservation, though parking is limited on a first come first serve basis.
While some of the safety protocols will go away when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, ski resorts have found a silver lining through some of the protocols — higher guest satisfaction.
Lee Canyon Ski and Snowboard Resort, a ski resort located in Southern Nevada just outside of Las Vegas, expects at least one of their changes from this season to carry on to other seasons. Lee Canyon implemented an online process for visitors to rent gear and pick it up once they arrive at the resort to cut down on lines and crowding. Improvements like this have led to higher guest satisfaction according to a survey Lee Canyon sent out to guests, compared with recent years, according to their Marketing Director, Jim Seely.
“We have actually seen an increase in guest satisfaction,” Seely said. “Overall, everyone did feel safe coming up here. Overall everyone was happy that we did stay open during the pandemic so people did have a place to escape and still get outdoors and enjoy outdoor recreation.”
One Colorado ski resort, Arapahoe Basin, made an announcement on March 12th that they will be limiting the number of unrestricted season passes and the number of daily lift tickets that they sell. The announcement, which is a first in the ski industry, came from a blog run by Alan Henceroth, the Chief Operating Officer at Arapahoe Basin.
“COVID forced us to learn in a few months what probably would have taken us five years to learn otherwise,” Henceroth said in the blog post. “Next season we are going to continue to restrict our pass and ticket visits.”
Arapahoe Basin, which boasts the longest ski season in Colorado, has focused on improving the guest experience the past few years with expanded terrain in the Beavers and the Steep Gullies territory of their resort.
Arapahoe Basin has also left the Epic Pass and joined the Ikon pass on a restricted basis.
“We don’t have an unlimited capacity,” Henceroth said. “We have been really focused on creating a great experience for our guests the last few years.”
Announcements like the one from Arapahoe Basin that they will limit lift ticket sales for future seasons could be the first of many announcements of ski resorts keeping changes from the COVID-19 era.