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How Vermont's Ski Industry Is Preparing For A Winter Like No Other

The view from a gently graded ski slope at Stowe Mountain Resort on a bluebird day.
Abagael Giles
VPR File
The state recently released COVID-19 restrictions for ski resorts, like Stowe Mountain Resort, shown here, and communities to follow this winter.

This winter season will look different than those past for ski areas and ski towns across Vermont. This hour, we check in with members of Vermont's ski industry about the sector-specific COVID-19 restrictions the state announced last week. We learn about how they plan to change their operations, and hear about the challenges that come with meeting these new regulations.

Our guests are:

Broadcast live on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 at noon. Rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Want To Go Skiing In Vermont This Winter? Here's What You Need To Know:

1. Staffing at resorts and on the ski patrol may look a little different.

“The tea leaves that we're reading are showing that resort reservations at this point are off anywhere from 50 to 60 %, and that seems to be pretty consistent with lodging base reservations across the state. So we're going to staff to whatever that number ends up being. I mean, the ski industry accounts for 13,000 jobs, give or take in the state, and more than a quarter of those are full time year round. Those numbers will be dug into it for sure as a result of this. Let's let's put it at five hundred and then we'll adjust up or down based on what the virus does.”

-Steve Wright, president and general manager of Jay Peak Resort

More from VPR: Health Officials Ramp Up COVID-19 Restrictions At Vermont Ski Areas

“The majority of the patrol job has to do with managing the train, opening and closing trails, checking out lifts as we ride them, that sort of thing. And that work is not dependent on the number of guests on property. That work is dependent on how much train is open, how many lifts are open, and so staffing numbers kind of need to remain the same or else we're going to be pretty short staffed, I think, if we aren't able to access many of our volunteers. We also do have some volunteers who have decided that they do not want to patrol this year because of the fears of infection and COVID-19.”

- Rena Perkins, regional director of the National Ski Patrol

2. Coming from out of state? Plan ahead.

The state has asked Vermont ski areas to make significant changes to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the slopes. Among other changes:

  • Every skier or snowboarder this year will have to provide information for potential contact tracing
  • Skiers and riders will also have to show they have complied with Vermont's travel and quarantine requirements, or else risk losing their ski privileges.
  • Ski areas must reduce their reliance on out-of-state staff, including ski patrollers, who cross state lines for weekend work.
  • Resorts must also reduce capacity on lifts and in day lodges by 50%.
  • Additionally, the state has asked resorts to loosen their cancelation policies, so skiers aren't tempted to break travel rules or ski sick out of concern about losing money.

For more advice about COVID-19 and trip planning from the Vermont Ski Areas Association, head here.

More from VPR: Vermont's Mountain Towns Get Ready For A COVID-Restricted Season

“We are requiring people to sign an affidavit that they did follow the guidelines. And so I think the challenge with things like [this] is we also have a lot of people that live in our communities that have second homes that have moved here for, say, the last year. And it gets very complicated to decide. Because [the fact that] somebody is driving around town and with a Massachusetts plate or a New York plate, doesn't necessarily mean they're not really part of the local community. I think with everything that's happened in the last year, we've seen a lot of people move into these communities. So I think we are doing a lot and I think we have some really strict rules that we're following and [we're] really trying to do the right thing.”

- Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Ski Resort and Pico Mountain Ski Resort

'Travel Now Equals Quarantine': State Officials Restrict Out-Of-State Travel

“I think that these out-of-state plates are an easy thing to look at and throw your hands in the air and say, 'Nobody's paying attention to the guidance.' But one thing that everybody misses is, are the folks that have decided to pay attention to the guidance and have stayed home. You don't have a look into their living room to see that they're paying attention to the guidance. The only thing that you can pay attention to are the reservation places from all of the hotels in the state and all of the ski resorts in the state. So I'm looking at my place right now for Christmas week, which is the biggest week of the year for us from a revenue perspective. And we're 70 % off where we should be. So I'm here to attest to the fact that somebody is paying attention to the guidance.”

- Steve Wright, president and general manager of Jay Peak Resort

More from VPR: Vermont Ski Towns Juggle Tourism Economy With COVID-19 Concerns

3. Be prepared to be flexible when it comes to season pass offerings.

Some ski areas have sold out of season passes or stopped selling passes without blackout dates -- days when your pass doesn't give you unlimited access to resort terrain.

But that doesn't mean it's too late to ski or to find a season pass.

The goal, says Bolton Valley President Lindsay DeLauriers, is to plan ahead and restrict the number of people promised access to the ski area during anticipated peak ski periods -- like the holidays and school breaks - so resorts don't promise skiers one thing and find themselves unable to deliver due to safety concerns and capacity limits.

“The reality is, with capacity restrictions, we're going to have fewer skiers up here. You know, in addition to having fewer people in the base lodge, fewer people in the restaurants, et cetera, we're also going to have fewer skiers. So we have to be thoughtful about what we can do in terms of rolling out discount programs that people might be used to. You know, it's not a numbers game like it might usually be, where you just want to get more people up here. You actually don't.

"And so ... we actually took our unrestricted pass product off the market because all we think we have room left for are the blackout passes. We identified nine days where we think we're really going to struggle with our capacity. And so our blackout pass blacks those nine days out. Our goal for season pass holders is not to restrict their visitation, if we can. You know, this whole season, everything is subject to change. We have to see how it goes. But if we can, we're going to limit our lift ticket sales and not our season pass holder visits. So we think we're sold out of unrestricted passes right now.”

- Lindsay DesLauriers, president of Bolton Valley Resort

More from VPR: Vt. Resorts To Skiers: Be Flexible, Be Patient, And Maybe Bring A Sandwich

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

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Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Lydia worked for Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS from 2019 until 2022.
Emily was a Vermont Edition producer at Vermont Public Radio until September 2021.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
Ruby Smith was an intern in the Vermont Edition production team during the winter of 2020-21.
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