#1: The Coronavirus Shakes the Ski World: Nearly All North American Ski Areas Shut Down:
Wow. What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, we began to see the threads that would ultimately unravel into what’s been undeniably one of the worst weeks in the history of skiing. Last week, we left off on the Coronavirus topic by writing, “…it’s not impossible that we could see this year’s ski season come to an unexpectedly quick close due to the Coronavirus. Hopefully that scenario won’t come to fruition, but if it does, we’ll be sure to keep you updated.” A day later, many of us went skiing and experienced a surreal scene at Stowe that at least this particular writer would describe as ominous. The lift lines were as short as they’ve ever been on a Saturday, and while weather conditions did us no favors, the limited number of open trails created a feeling as if the resort had already begun scaling back operations despite having yet to speak on the Covid issue. Then, later that night, both Alterra and Vail announced they’d be closing all North American resorts, likely for the season.
In the aftermath of that announcement, countless other ski areas, both in North America and worldwide, began making announcements of their own. Despite being mid-March and with plenty of snow remaining, ski areas everywhere came to the difficult but necessary conclusion that it was time to shut it down. While the decision itself can be boiled down to a binary choice between open and close, the effects of the closures are vastly more complex. For those planning a spring skiing trip, lift tickets, plane tickets, lodging, and lessons all have to be cancelled and refunded, causing potentially significant cash flow issues for both ski resorts and local lodges. It also results in a sudden lose of employment for thousands of workers who rely on ski resorts for income, from mountain operations and hospitality staff, to ski instructors and lift operators. Finally, mountain communities are also feeling the impact as they’re left in the difficult predicament of wanting the tourism dollars that keep their local economies afloat, yet also not wanting to risk having the Coronavirus introduced to their communities by visitors from higher risk areas. Ultimately, as you’ll see in the rest of this week’s news, the aftermath of this week’s closures is incredibly complex and a topic we’ll likely have the unfortunate task of discussing at length in the weeks and months ahead.
#2: Tahoe Caught in an Imperfect Storm:
Keeping with the complex Covid-19 theme, our second low-light this week is news from Tahoe, where a mixture of factors resulted in what could safely be described as pandemonium. The first ingredient in this unexpected chaos had actually been in the works for weeks: a total lack of snow. Until last week, the region had been experiencing something of a draught as a strong early season start gave way to a lack of accumulation. Second, Covid fears had been hitting surrounding cities, particularly those in California, meaning that in addition to those who already had vacations to the region planned months ago, many city-dwellers considered it an ideal time to head to the mountains. Then, it finally decided to snow. Not just a little, but a whole lot. By last weekend, feet of snow had fallen in the area. By Tuesday, some areas had received over 100” of snow, with Homewood topping the totals at 114” and Sierra-at-Tahoe receiving 92” by Monday. Finally, as if the combination of a powder and pandemic panic wasn’t enough, two more factors came into play which, in unison, tipped the scales into chaos. Along with the rest of the ski world, all 15 ski areas in the greater Tahoe region announced that they’d be closing. In tandem with that announcement, weather conditions also forced significant road closures, making it nearly impossible to leave the region. As a result, the city was absolutely inundated with visitors, powder, and nowhere to ski. Reports from the area over the weekend describe scenes of chaos, with small diners being overwhelmed by hundreds of customers in a single night. Fortunately, things seem to have subsided in the area and the region has joined the rest of the mountain towns across the world as they struggle to make sense of this surreal scenario. To read more about last weekend’s powder and pandemic induced panic in Tahoe, check out this recap from the San Francisco Chronicle.
#3: To Ski or Not to Ski? That’s the Uphiller’s Dilemma in the Covid-19 Era:
For our third highlight this week, we’re going to take a bit of journalistic liberty here and report on a topic that isn’t being driven by larger publications, but instead by our own community. In the wake of this week’s nearly unanimous ski resort closures, there’s been a sudden spike in skiers and snowboarders interested in uphill skiing. Seeing as it’s only mid-March, many ski resorts still have plenty of snow both on trails and in the woods, presenting a silver lining for those with touring setups. While the idea of utilizing uphill skiing at a time like this to get out of the house and find exercise is extremely tantalizing, and one that we generally support, there are two issues to be aware of.
First, are the new uphill policies at closed resorts. While most mountains have some sort of policy in place during their open season, closures due to a worldwide pandemic are a historic, unprecedented situation to have to navigate. As such, many resorts have created new policies regarding use of their mountains during this time. While there isn’t one steadfast rule, many resorts have posted their updated policies online, or have posted signs at the base of the mountain. Our local resort Stowe, for instance, has a policy which allows for use of the mountain, but makes it clear that the resort should be treated as if it’s the backcountry, with no resources, limited rescue capabilities, and variable conditions and obstacles. In other words, uphill skiers and snowboarders are allowed to use the mountain at their own risk. This seems to fall in line with most ski areas, although there are certainly some exceptions. In Colorado for example, most ski areas are closed for uphill travel, in accordance with the state Governor’s orders. If you’re looking to extend your season by getting into touring, we recommend checking in with your destination to see if they have a revised uphill skiing policy in place. Also, if you do decide to go skinning, play it safe. Not only are ski patrol services not available, but local healthcare systems already have a lot on their plates without having to worry about injured skiers and snowboarders as well.
The second issue that we’ve seen bubbling up as a result of Coronavirus closures, is a growing sentiment by mountain town locals who fear that uphill skiers will cause an outbreak in their town. Before we jump into this issue, we want to be clear that we’re not medical experts, nor do we intend to give medical advice. That said, current CDC guidelines recommend getting outside and exercising if possible. Skiing, as we all know, provides an excellent avenue for outdoor exertion while naturally maintaining social distancing practices. It’s safe to say that the value of skiing is a sentiment that’s shared amongst nearly all skiers. Where things get dicey however, is when it comes to auxiliary activities such as pumping gas or visiting local grocery stores in mountain towns where visitors could potentially spread the virus. This fear of “outsiders” unleashing the Coronavirus, while warranted, often reeks of elitism when it’s discussed on online forums. As enthusiasts of the outdoors, it’s painful to see the way some backcountry enthusiasts are reprimanding their fellow skiers due to fear. With that in mind, we urge all members of our community, whether you’re living in a mountain town or a city, to remember that we have a shared love for the sport, and to please remain respectful during this undeniably difficult time.
Ultimately, we’d like to iterate that we don’t say anything in regards to the continuation of uphill skiing with any kind of certainty. How could we? These are, after all, uncertain and unprecedented times. Really, all we can ask is that everyone takes care of themselves as well as others during this difficult time. As locals of a mountain town, we hope that you do visit and continue to explore our mountains. But, please also take this seriously. When traveling to and from the mountain, keep in mind that these are not normal times. The aprés scene isn’t happening at the local bar, it’s happening in the parking lot with your tailgate up and friends spaced an even 6’ feet apart. When you stop to get gas, use hand sanitizer before and after using the pumps or going inside. If you need food and provisions for your day, please stock up locally before heading to our mountain towns. In other words, we understand the value that the outdoors brings to our lives, and we know how important it is to be able to escape to nature now more than ever. It’s not within our rights to claim access to the mountains as exclusively ours. However, we hope you’ll do your part to minimize the spread of this virus if you do choose to visit our community.
Finally, on a closing note, we’d just like to remind you (as you’ve been reminded endlessly), that this is a fluid situation. While we currently support low-impact efforts to go touring, that point of view is subject to change at any moment as we continue to learn more. To stay on top of the most relevant information and recommendations regarding uphill skiing, we suggest checking in with your state’s ski tourism organization, such as Ski Utah, Colorado Ski Country USA, and Ski Vermont.
#4: Finally, Some Reprieve: The 2020 X-Games Real Ski Edits Are Live!
Ok, three Corona-centric highlights are enough, don’t you think? Fortunately, there was one good thing that happened in the world of skiing this week: the 2020 X-Games Real Ski Edits were released! As you likely know by now, each year ESPN hosts an offshoot of the X-Games, known as the Real Ski competition. In this contest, 6 urban skiing specialists are selected by the X-Games to put together short, one and a half minute edits, featuring their most progressive urban hits. While that used to mean “urban rails”, the scope of urban skiing has widened considerably in recent years as athletes have opened up to a much more vast realm of possibilities. That suggestion has never been more obvious than in this year’s edits as athletes served up countless creative features in this year’s entires, from hand drags and switch “limbo carves,” to hand drags, transitions, wall rides, and roofs. So. Many. Roofs. But, that’s enough regarding the content of these edits. Rather than read our vague descriptions of some of the most creative and technical urban skiing we’ve ever seen, we highly recommend checking out the edits yourself. This year, the contest features an almost entirely new cast, with Jesper Tjäder, Noah Albaladejo, Èmile Bergeron, Sam Zahner, and Alex Hackel all making their first appearances. In fact, the only returning athlete this year is Jake Mageau who won the fan favorite award in last year’s event, despite missing the podium. To see this year’s entries, head on over to the official 2020 X-Games Real Ski website where you can watch all of the edits as well as cast a daily vote. Best of luck to all the athletes, you all absolutely crushed it!