By Katy Savage
The state released much anticipated operating guidelines for ski resorts on Nov. 3, weeks before resorts are projected to open for the winter season.
Ted Brady, the deputy secretary for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, called the guidelines the “safest and strongest” in the country at a Nov. 3 press conference.
“It requires ski areas to considerably alter how they’re going to do business this winter,” Brady said.
Lift lines might move slower under the guidelines and guests may see gondolas go up the mountain with just one person in them.
Under the guidelines, gondolas can only serve members of the same traveling group, unless the gondolas are big enough for guests to keep 6 feet from each other. Chair lifts are limited to 50% capacity, unless guests are riding in a group.
Guests have to wear facial coverings and stay 6 feet away from each other at all times.
Lodges are also limited to 50% occupancy, with no more than 75 people in any indoor space at a time.
The state recommends resorts place a 30-minute time limit on how long guests stay inside and manage people through a ticketing or reservation system.
Resorts are also required to maintain electronic records of names, phone numbers, addresses and email addresses of those who enter any lodge, including what time they used the lodge and where they sat.
“All skiers and riders are going to have to alter their routine,” Brady said.
The Vermont Ski Areas Association worked with Vermont resorts, the National Ski Areas Association and the state to develop the guidelines over the past several months.
“This really has been a collective effort,” said Adam White, the communications director for Vermont Ski Areas Association. “Every decision this season is going to be informed by safety and health.”
White said the rules are general enough to allow ski resorts to build their own guidelines on top of the state’s recommendations.
“Every resort is different,” White said.
At the press conference last Tuesday, Brady commended Killington for its adaptability. The resort is typically the first to open and the last to close.
“They made a strategic decision this year to wait to open until they have enough operating terrain and enough lifts to spread that crowd over the mountain,” Brady said.
As temperatures approached nearly 70 degrees the weekend prior to Killington’s initial projected opening on Nov. 14, Communications Manager Courtney DiFiore said Killington opening date would be pushed back. The resort isn’t opening until it can provide top to bottom skiing — a change from typical years. Okemo is projected to open Nov. 21.
DiFiore said Killington is prepared for the changes.
“We knew they were coming,” DiFiore said of the guidelines. “Things can change, which is why all the plans we created are very adaptable.”
She said the ski industry is used to making rapid changes, given the unpredictability of snowfall.
“We’re feeling pretty confident in our plan,” DiFiore said. “We may not see as many people on the mountain as we normally would, anyway.”
Killington and Okemo released winter operating plans in August and September. They are both requiring riders to book their ski days ahead of time. Killington is requiring guests to make parking reservations, while Okemo is requiring skiers and riders to book reservations for slots on the hill ahead of time.
Both resorts are opening as many lifts and as much terrain as possible to spread people out on the mountain.
“We’re happy to have those guidelines,”Okemo Communications Manager Bonnie MacPherson said. “We’ll be in compliance with those and combine them with the protocols we already have in place.”
Brady emphasized the need for all out-of-state guests to follow the recommended guidelines for quarantining prior to arrival (if from a regional county with 400 cases per million or higher) and emphasized the need for resorts to be flexible with cancellation policies this year.
Despite the changes, Brady said the state was committed to providing an “unparalleled winter experience.”