Mountain Times: How is the summer going? How does it compare to the past? Your expectations?
Mike Solimano: Overall, summer is going better than we expected considering the “new normal.” But the reality is that a large portion of our revenue in summer is generated from businesses we can’t operate. Weddings, conferences, and events have all been cancelled so that has had a pretty dramatic reduction in revenue. Lodging and dining have also been impacted by the quarantine restrictions from neighboring states, both operating at 50% capacity due to current restrictions. On the positive side we have been able to show that we can open and operate many parts of our business safely such as golf, mountain biking, and Adventure Center. Our volumes in golf and mountain biking have been very strong, helped in part by the substantial growth in year-round season passes (covered below).
MT: Has crowd control been an issue? Have you turned people away?
MS: We started the summer very cautious with more restrictions in place, including requiring guests to pre-register which allowed our team to see an expected volume level each day. We have since stopped requiring pre-registration. As the summer progressed, we were able to operate more lifts, and with the additional uphill capacity, we have not had to turn away guests. We still have capacity limits on dining locations so at times that has resulted in some time slots being sold out.
MT: How are season pass sales going for this winter with the Pass Holder Promise?
MS: Season pass sales have been surprisingly strong. It shows people want to recreate and if we can provide a safe way to help them get outdoors there is still a lot of interest. We continue to focus on growing year-round business by highlighting the Beast 365 Pass. So we were very encouraged by the results of our season pass deadline. Overall, Season Passes were 12% higher at Killington and 6 % higher at Pico than last year. The Beast 365 Pass increased over 80% from the previous year (many converting from unlimited passes) – it is encouraging to see such great momentum in our year-round pass offering. We now have over 2,000 people with the year-round pass.
MT: What are the range of options you’re considering for winter? Will the base lodges be limited — or expanded to meet social distancing requirements? Is there a chance you won’t open at all?
MS: This winter will bring many changes, many of which we’re still discovering as we plan for the season at Killington and Pico. Overall, our main focus will be trying to provide as much skiing/riding as possible. Since the science says that the spread of Covid is more likely indoors, we will prioritize our focus on ensuring that our main products of skiing and riding can be maximized by our guests. The current rules limit capacity in buildings to 50% and we expect that those or similar restrictions will be in place during this season. We are considering all options but it is clear that we will not have enough indoor space for everyone that will want to be indoors on busier days. We will probably need to prohibit using the lodges as areas to “boot up” or we will reach our capacity before we even open for skiing for the day. There’s a good chance we won’t be operating smaller outlets like the yurt or the motor room bar since they already have such limited capacity that we will need to focus on the larger spaces and ensuring maximum utilization of our main base lodges. The social scene that is prevalent at Killington in the bars will change substantially as currently bars are not allowed open in Vermont. We are planning on changing our food & beverage options to a much more simplified offering that can be taken “to-go.” We will also offer take-out windows for food during periods we are experiencing capacity constraints in lodges. There are so many implications of having capacity constraints indoors that I can’t review them all, but our guests should assume every option is on the table. It is likely that many guests will go from their car to the slopes and back to their car without ever going inside to a lodge – this will be the new normal for this season at Killington and Pico. We hear the rumors floating around town regarding concern around Pico even opening for the season. Rest assured, we plan on opening Pico Mountain in whatever capacity COVID-19 allows.
MT: Is staffing a problem now and/or do you see it being one in the winter as foreign workers may be limited?
MS: Clearly with the new governmental restrictions on international workers, this will have an impact on our workforce. We have been using international workers to help in snowmaking, lift operations and food and beverage. We would have had a hard time operating in the past few years without their help. Currently, the ban on these workers expires December 31, so we are working on bringing them in to help at the start of the new year. We are working on finding international workers that did not leave the country and are currently working summer jobs around the U.S. These workers are not subject to the restrictions mentioned above. We are hopeful that there will be more domestic workers available, but staffing is going to be very challenging.
MT: What else would you like to address?
MS: We have had a face mask requirement indoors for many weeks even though the state did not have such a requirement. We feel that the science shows that face coverings can have a substantial impact on controlling the spread. We were planning on extending our face covering requirement to outdoors in the next week so we were happy to see the governor implement the new statewide mask requirement.