#1: California’s Mt. Baldy Ski Resort Set to Reopen, Only Ski Area Currently Open in North America:
This week in ski news, as is the case with much of the rest of the world, we find ourselves exploring the idea of what’s safe to open, and when. To kick things off, it’s with mixed emotions that we share the news that Mt. Baldy Ski Resort in Southern California officially reopened for business on Wednesday following an over one month-long hiatus. The decision to reopen the resort was made after counties in Southern California began allowing golf courses and other outdoor recreation venues to resume business. Citing approval under these guidelines as well as strong snow conditions for this time of year, officials at Mt. Baldy decided on Wednesday to reopen the resort. In doing so, however, the resort has implemented a number of policy changes to ensure that guests maintain social distancing practices and that the resort itself doesn’t become a propagator of Covid-19. Of these changes to Mt. Baldy’s operating procedures, possibly the most significant is the limitation of skiers on the hill. Making reference to the concept of tee-times in golf, Mt. Baldy officials announced that those who buy single day lift tickets will be given a designated time of arrival. When guests arrive to the resort, either as a pass holder or someone who purchased a lift ticket online, Mt. Baldy representatives will allow access to the hill in ten minute intervals. In doing so, their goal is to operate the resort at approximately 10% capacity. In addition to this strict restriction on capacity, a number of other policies are in place, including no rental services, no food or beverage amenities, only experienced skier and riders will be allowed on mountain, and of course, all guests must wear face coverings at all times. Ultimately, it’s a tough decision, and while numerous precautions are being taken, it’s also sure to instill a certain level of backlash. While we’re in no position to comment on the situation, we’re curious to hear what you think. If you feel strongly one way or another, let us know in the comments below! If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to read Mt. Baldy’s official operations plan, as well as this article from the LA Times.
#2: Disgruntled Pass Holders File Class Action Lawsuits Against Vail & Alterra Over Covid-Closures:
In other “should ski resorts close due to Covid” news, both Vail Resorts and Alterra resorts are suddenly facing class action lawsuits filed by season pass holders who claim that they’re owed money due to the premature closing of the resorts. While each corporation is facing its own unique lawsuit, the arguments laid out in both are more or less the same. In short, the two lawsuits claim that the resorts have made millions in unjust profits as they’ve managed to trim over a month’s worth of operating expenses due to the closures while simultaneously retaining profits made from season passes sold to skiers who expected to be able to access the resorts at least through the months of March and April. Additionally, pass holders haven’t been offered any kind of refund to make up for their loss of access. As a result, the two plaintiffs argue in their class action lawsuits that pass holders are owed partial refunds.
Taken at face value, the two plaintiffs in these lawsuits have a point: Ikon and Epic pass holders lost at least a month’s worth of skiing that they expected when they bought their passes. That said, it seems to us that the resorts also have a case. In user pass agreements, season passes are specifically listed as “non-refundable,” meaning pass purchasers have already agreed that refunds simply aren’t part of the equation. Secondly, it’s not as if the ski resorts collectively closed when they realized it would be more profitable to shut down for the season rather than remain open. Instead, they were forced to close despite most resorts wishing to remain open at least a little longer(as detailed by an amazing article from the Colorado Sun that we shared last week). Those two factors, combined with the fact that ski resorts most certainly are not finding themselves in an exceptionally profitable situation due to the closures, make these lawsuits seem a bit out of line. But, again, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this story as well as there’s sure to be no shortage of opinions. To learn more, check out this report from the Denver Post, or review the lawsuit filed against Vail in full.
#3: As the Traditional Start of the New Zealand Ski Season Nears, Uncertainty Looms:
As April draws to an end and we find ourselves on the verge of May, a vast majority of North Americans are beginning to shift their mentalities towards spring and summer, thus slowly drawing to conclusion the pains of a ski season that ended much too soon. In the Southern Hemisphere however, the opposite is true, which means we’re about to see what side B of the coronavirus’s impact on the ski industry looks like. In New Zealand, one of the most popular ski destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, ski season typically runs from about June through October. According to that traditional timeline, ski resorts in the country should be looking to open in just over a month’s time. Unlike most years however, this season’s opening, longevity, and success all face countless questions. The first and most significant of those questions obviously, is whether or not New Zealand’s ski areas will be allowed to open as expected. Starting next Monday, the country will take a significant step towards a more normal reality as the nation will move from Level 4 to Level 3 in its alert system. While that move will allow preseason work to resume at the resorts, a move to Level 2 will be required to invite guests to the resort, and only a move to Level 1 will ensure that ski slopes can maintain financial stability well enough to remain open as it will enable inter-island travel. In addition to concerns surrounding domestic ski travel, resort operators are also expecting significant decreases in international tourism to the area, leading many to believe that a reduction in operations may be in order for the upcoming season. If that’s the case, then nearly all of the ski areas’ revenue for this season will come in the form of season pass pre-sales, resulting in budget restrictions that may cause resorts to trim down their maintenance and operations efforts. Ultimately, that could mean many ski areas never fully open their terrain, instead offering chairlift access to just a percentage of their trails. Regardless of what the actual outcome of this story is, it’ll be an interesting one to watch as we see what happens when the Coronavirus hits the ski industry at the start of ski season rather than at the end. For more on this, check out the report from NewsRoom.co.nz.
#4: Glimmers of Hope Radiate from Aspen, Where Groomers Will Maintain Safe Uphill Skiing Conditions and Aspen Highlands Eyes Possible Reopening in May:
Finally, our last story on the topic this week is a look at how the Aspen Skiing Co. is handling the crisis. As a quick refresher, the Aspen Skiing Co. is the owner of four resorts in and around the Aspen Snowmass area: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk. While all four of these ski areas remain closed at the time of this writing, we did catch a couple of stories this week that provide just a touch of reprieve for skiers in the area who’ve found themselves wistfully eyeing the snow-covered slopes. The first of those two stories is the official announcement that the Aspen Skiing Co. will continue grooming for uphill skiers at all four resorts in order to provide safe conditions. While the resort had previously been maintaining popular uphill routes since the closures in March, they’d been doing so quietly. Now, the ongoing maintenance of the slopes is public knowledge. Although not specifically stated, we have a hunch that this move is an effort to give uphill skiers and snowboarders a safe place to recreate, minimizing backcountry excursions and avalanche accidents, while also ensuring that the conditions on trail are skiable. For more on this, check out the coverage from the Aspen Times.
The second article we caught wind of this week in regards to Aspen, is the news that officials at Aspen Highlands are optimistically eyeing a reopening of the resort sometime in May. Citing a strong snowpack, the historical ability to remain open until Memorial Day, and their steadfast commitment to reopening the resort if conditions allow, Aspen Highlands officials confirmed that if there’s a way to reopen the resort late into the season, they will. Of course, much like the situation at Mt. Baldy, doing so will come with numerous caveats. Before any kind of reopening can take place, resort officials will have to hash out numerous details, such as how to create socially distant lift lines and whether or not to sell day tickets. The bottom line though, is that there’s a glimmer for hope for area residents. To learn much more about the numerous factors affecting this decision, check out the report from the Aspen Daily News.