#1: Gearing Up For Winter: VT Issues State Regulations for Ski Resort Operators, CO Makes Last Minute Preparations :
Over the course of the last several months, one singular question has loomed over the ski industry: what will happen next season? Well, as April turned to May, May turned to June, and so on and so forth, we’ve finally found ourselves at the end of the first week of November. A handful of ski resorts have already opened here in North America, and we’re suddenly at the precipice of an entirely uncertain season. With countless opening dates planned for the weeks and month ahead, a number of headlines have emerged this week that collectively give us that, “this is really happening,” feeling.
For us here in Vermont, by far the biggest news of the week came in the form of the announcement that the state has finally issued official guidance for ski resorts to operate this winter. Fortunately, for the most part, the guidelines are largely expected with very few surprises. Logistically, that means ski resorts in Vermont will be able to operate as planned, and as described to their season pass holders, with a couple of exceptions. One of those exceptions is that lodge capacity cannot exceed either 50% or 75 people. This isn’t dramatically new news, as restrictions on lodge use were expected, however the 75 person limit could prove to make lodges much more exclusive than originally thought. The second plot twist, and by far the most significant aspect of Vermont’s new regulations, is that skiers visiting from out of state will have to attest to completing Vermont’s state quarantine rules. At the moment, that means nearly everyone traveling to Vermont from out of state would have to either quarantine for 7 days at home and then test negative before traveling to VT, or quarantine within the state for 14 days. On top of that, the state regulations also require resorts to provide proof that their guests have attested to following VT’s state travel regulations. In other words, for non-Vermont residents, skiing within Vermont, while doable, will require an exceptional amount of planning this season. While that could create an exceptional ski experience for those living within the state’s borders, it’s also likely to have a dramatic impact on local ski town economies. To learn more, check out the official Vermont State regulations, or this article from the Burlington Free Press.
The other state making similar headlines this week was Colorado, where a number of stories were published relating to the eminent opening of state resorts. Unlike Vermont where state officials managed to release operational guidelines prior to resorts opening, Colorado has only managed to issue their proposed guidelines, meaning that the path forward isn’t particularly clear for resorts that are ready to open. Still, despite that challenge, it does look like the ski season is about ready to get underway. This week, Keystone resort received the green light from the government to open its reservation system with the intention of opening for skiing starting today. Elsewhere, as we’ve previously reported, Wolf Creek is also currently operating. Unfortunately though, it’s not all positive news coming out of Colorado. We also learned this week that the Town of Vail has established mandatory mask zones in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19 beyond the slopes. In Summit County, home to a number of CO ski resorts, officials have moved to “level orange,” which is one step above their level red, stay at home order. With level orange, area businesses will be forced to reduce capacity to 25% or 50 people and a 10 PM curfew will be implemented. Collectively, these two articles from Vail and Summit County gives us the feeling that the ski industry on the whole is waiting with bated breath to see what happens as the 2020-2021 Winter Ski Experiment gets underway.
#2: Vail Releases Information Regarding Reservation Process:
In related news this week, we’ve also finally learned more about exactly how Vail’s reservation system will work. After watching a handful of ski resorts implement reservation systems for brief reopenings last spring, it was widely believed that reservations systems would be the norm for the 2020-2021 season. Surprisingly though, Vail was one of the only resort operators to move forward with the strategy, with most other resorts electing to simply limit sales of day tickets. While we could delve into a discussion of which method strikes a better balance between health, recreation, and business, the truth of the matter is we have yet to see. What we do know though, is that the reservation process at resorts that tried it last spring wasn’t always smooth. As such, we’ve been anxiously waiting for Vail to announce their plan for managing reservations.
Fortunately, that announcement has finally come. In a post on their website, as well as all of their social media channels, Vail has announced that their reservation website will be up and running starting today, November 6th. For the first month, the reservation system will only work for pass holders, allowing them to use their 7 priority days before reservations are publicly available. In addition to those 7 days, once resorts open, pass holders will be able to use the website to book reservations on a weekly, rolling basis, with weeks resetting every Wednesday. Of course one of the problems encountered by ski resorts who implemented a reservation system last year was the constant crashing of their website due to an overwhelming amount of people attempting to simultaneously make reservations. In an effort to avoid this issue, Vail has created a “waiting room” system in which users will be asked to wait until it’s their turn to enter the reservation system. If a pass holder is unwilling to wait, they can enter their Email, enabling them to be notified when it’s their turn to make a reservation. Pass holders will then have a 20 minute window to enter the reservation system using a link sent to them via Email. To be sure, making a reservation to go skiing will take some getting used to, but considering the circumstances, this system seems like a strong way to go about it. For more on this, check out the details on the Epic Pass website.
#3: FIS World Cup Tour Postpones Upcoming Lech/Zuers Races:
Turning the page to the competitive side of our sport, we have some less than ideal news coming from the FIS World Cup Tour. Unfortunately, the upcoming World Cup Parallel Slalom events planned for Lech/Zuers, Austria on November 13th and 14th have been postponed. Now, weather providing, they’ll be held at the same venue on November 26th & 27th. While the poor conditions and a lack of snow are being cited as the reason for the delay, it’d be neglectful not to notice the current impact of Covid-19 on the nation as Austria has just re-entered lockdown. While professional sporting events are technically exempt from the lockdown, it’s worth considering how the current Covid climate and last week’s news that reigning overall champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde contracted the virus after the event in Solden might’ve factored into the decision. Nevertheless, looking ahead, the FIS calendar remains only minorly changed.
For the women’s circuit, this week’s news means that the previously scheduled Parallel Slalom will become the third race of the year as the two Slalom races set to be held in Levi, Finland on November 21st & 22nd remain on the calendar. On the men’s side of things, even less had changed as there are no events scheduled before the new Lech/Zuers date. While these hiccoughs in the FIS schedule could be cause for concern, there is one silver lining. With the postponement of the Lech/Zuers event, it gives Mikaela Shiffrin an extra week of recovery from a back injury that kept her out of the season’s first races. If she can return to full health in time for the Levi event, it will be her first return to racing since January 26, 2020. For more on this, check out the writeup from SkiRacing.com.
#4: The Freeride World Tour Cancels Hakuba & Kicking Horse Events, Hopes to Reschedule at European Venues:
Finally, it’s with a touch of remorse that we admit that we’re unable to provide any significant reprieve in the world of ski news this week. We wanted to, and we nearly shared with you a feel good piece regarding Alaska’s Skeetawk Ski Resort, but the unfortunate truth of the matter is that the four most important headlines of the week quite simply weren’t particularly positive. So, it’s on that note that we share with you an update that we’ve been expecting: the Freeride World Tour has just announced that it will be cancelling its stops in Hakuba, Japan, and Kicking Horse, British Columbia.
When the tour calendar was announced just about a month ago, we held our comments related to the feasibility of pulling off a truly worldwide tour amidst a global pandemic. While we’d already seen the chaos such a concept unleashed upon the FIS calendar, we thought just maybe the freeride side of the sport had cracked the code and found a way to host a traveling global event amidst a pandemic. Unfortunately however, that’s not the case as this week the tour announced it would be cancelling the two events scheduled to take place beyond the borders of Europe. That’s the bad news. The good news though, is two fold. First and foremost, the Freeride World Tour is scheduled to continue at it’s three European locations, at the very least. Additionally, event organizers are looking to replace the Hakuba and Kicking Horse dates with two new venues somewhere in Europe. While doing so would change the vibe of the competition in the sense that it wouldn’t be a truly “world” tour in 2021, it would still be a positive outcome for those invested in the competition, from organizers and athletes, to fans across the world. While there’s not much else to say on this front until further details regarding potential replacement venues emerge, we’ll turn you over to the Freeride World Tour to learn what we’ve learned.