By Katy Savage
After a month of uncertainty, winter sports clubs and youth programs can now resume.
Gov. Phil Scott relaxed restrictions on club programs at his press conference on Dec. 22, giving the green light for practices, conditioning sessions and contact-less drills to begin starting Dec. 26 for school-based and recreational youth sports.
Scott said this was the first step in a phased restart of youth sports as Vermont’s Covid case numbers appear to have stabilized.
“It’s important to remember the gains we made are fragile and we will only hold them if we remain smart,” Scott said.
Scrimmages and competitions are still prohibited under Scott’s orders, but Scott suggested that prohibitions could also change soon.
“I hope we’ll be able to roll back restrictions further,” Scott said on Dec. 22.
The governor’s announcement was welcome to ski and snowboard clubs and teams, which had been waiting for the governor’s updates since restrictions were put in place on Nov. 14. Ski club and academy leaders met with state officials on Dec. 7 to find a solution.
Vermont Alpine Racing Association (VARA) Executive Director Julie Woodworth called the governor’s announcement a “win.”
“I think everyone’s just pretty psyched in general,” said Woodworth.
Under the restrictions, students in ski sports are required to stay in cohorts no larger than 25 individuals. Students can only interact with people in their own club and can’t ride chairlifts with those outside their cohorts.
“Everybody has to stay in their unit,” Woodworth said.
The winter programs are about a month behind schedule due in part to the pandemic and in part to the lack of snow.
“The weather and Covid have been working together to beat us up,” Woodworth said.
Though the state is allowing race programs to resume training, U.S. Ski and Snowboard, the national governing body for skiing and snowboarding, is not allowing competitions to begin until Jan. 1. Ski races in Vermont are currently scheduled to start Jan. 12 under restrictions.
Races will be capped this season to 100 participants to meet Vermont’s requirement that limit group gatherings to 150 people, Woodworth said. The cap is a downsize from typical races, which can draw up to 200 participants.
Woodworth said it will be up to the race site to make sure it has enough staff to work the race.
Though youth programs can begin, adult programs, for those 18 and over, are still on pause.
“That’s the one little hitch we have right now,” Woodworth said. “It’s just a matter of educating the state on how Alpine racing works.”
Chuck Hughes, the development program director of the Killington Ski Club and Killington Mountain School, said programs started on Dec. 27 with “a great day of social distancing and mask wearing.” Hughes declined to say more about the future of the season until more is known about the events schedule.
Meanwhile, Okemo and Killington Resort are emphasizing one-on-one lessons this year and are limiting group ski and snowboard lessons to private groups.
Scott’s announcement came as most schools were on break for the holidays. Scott said hockey, cheerleading, basketball can hold practices if athletes stay 6 feet apart. Cheerleaders are not allowed to hold vocal routines this winter. High contact sports like wrestling will not be able to hold practices and indoor track will also not be sanctioned this winter.