Local News, Sports

A look to the post-Covid mountain experience

By Bonnie MacPherson

The World Health Organization recently announced that the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is “in sight.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people no longer need to practice social distancing, and no states require masks in public places any longer.

As skiers and riders are planning winter weekend getaways or considering whether to purchase a season pass this year, many are asking how the winter season ahead will compare to the restrictive Covid protocols and precautions of the previous two winters. Many aspects of the mountain experience are returning to normal, and some vestiges of the pandemic are being recognized as best practices that will continue in the post-Covid environment.

Vermont Ski Areas Association Director of Communications Bryan Rivard said, “Most ski areas have posted signs for voluntary masking indoors, and we do not anticipate this to change for this winter. Visitors will notice improvements in outdoor spaces: warming stations, fire pits and wind breaks. Even though they were installed when indoor access was limited, the feedback was so positive that ski areas have continued or expanded those options for their guests.”

“Operating throughout the pandemic made us relook at our systems, in particular technology and how we can streamline processes for our guests,” said Killington/Pico Brand Marketing and Communications Manager Kristel Killary. “We require guests to buy tickets online and retrieve their One Pass RFID cards from convenient pick-up boxes throughout the resort. Guests who already have a One Pass can reload it online and proceed directly to the lifts.”

“Best practices have really become a part of improving the visitor experience,” said Rivard. “Ski areas have utilized technology to improve the ticketing process, with many offering reloadable media that allows skiers to skip the ticket window or to purchase ahead for faster fulfillment, plus cashless payments and mobile ordering to offer more options.”

Okemo Vice President and General Manager Bruce Schmidt said the policy to make all purchases cashless, established during the pandemic, will continue at Okemo this winter, and lift mazes and loading procedures developed to encourage social distancing will revert to pre-Covid practices. “Our lift mazes returned to more traditional operation last season, and we will continue to load our chairlifts according to capacity and use the normal loading procedures. Shuttle buses will also load to normal capacity.”

Some improvements and efficiencies to food and beverage operations will remain as well. “We will continue our dining reservation system for some full-service dining locations such as Coleman Brook Tavern. In addition, Okemo will not require proof of vaccination for our guests or our staff.”

Killington introduced the use of QR codes. “We will continue to offer QR ordering at Killington’s Peak Bar and Long Trail Pub,” said Killary. “New this year, QR ordering will also be available at the K-1 Lodge food court. We plan to offer online ordering at various locations throughout the new K-1 Base Lodge as well.”

Another concern among guests and resort workers is the possibility of a Covid resurgence this winter. “In the unlikely event that happens,” said Rivard, “each Vermont ski area already has a playbook to implement since they’ve done it before. The Vermont Ski Areas Association worked very closely with its member areas and the state to collaborate on the initial guidelines that allowed ski areas to continue operations during the pandemic. Vermont’s ski areas would be able to implement the necessary protocols to continue operating according to state and federal guidelines, if that becomes necessary again.”

“Here at Killington Resort/Pico Mountain we continue to monitor and comply with the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic, prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of guests, staff and the community,” said Killary. “We will continue to work closely with the Vermont Dept. of Health in the event of a resurgence. We continue to offer Covid-19 self-screening resources to our staff, we are hosting an optional flu and Covid vaccine clinic in October and have policies to manage any positive cases and ensure best practices are followed for the safety of our entire community.”

“Okemo will continue to keep safety in the forefront of our decisions, and this includes any Covid related concerns,” said Schmidt. “Having been through the challenges of Covid during the past two seasons, we will always have a contingency plan. We will follow state and national guidance in the event of a resurgence. And, while we don’t require vaccination for our staff or guests we do feel it is one way to stay healthy and we encourage vaccination.”

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