#1: Alterra / IKON Release Official COVID-19 Operating Procedures - Most Resorts Will Not Require Reservations:
This week, we’re jumping right in as we’ve finally been treated to a piece of news that we were anxiously awaiting. As you likely know, both Vail Resorts (Epic Pass) and a smattering of other ski resorts have been announcing their official operating policies for the upcoming season over the course of the last few weeks. For Vail, that’s meant the implementation of a reservation system that looks to favor season pass holders. For just about every other resort, that’s meant strategically limiting the sale of both season pass products as well as daily lift tickets in an effort to manage crowd sizes without having to implement a reservation system. Now, after waiting for weeks, we finally know more about how IKON plans to treat the pandemic as they’ve officially announced their upcoming operating plans.
If you’re on the side of the “let the controlled sale of passes regulate the crowds” tactic, then you’re in luck. Alterra’s official policy relies heavily on this approach while also allowing individual resorts to implement their own additional precautions. As a result, a majority of IKON Pass resorts will not have a reservation system this year, at least as of right now. At the time of this writing, of the 47 resorts attached to the IKON Pass, only 6 have implemented reservation policies, with another 5 whose announcements are still pending. For the remaining 36 resorts, this means that reservations are not required at this time. Instead, Alterra hopes to utilize limits on pass sales to control capacity, although their press release makes sure to note that these policies are subject to change without notice.
Now that we know IKON’s official policies, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Epic Resorts are likely to be in the minority this season in terms of requiring reservations. Ultimately this sets up a scenario in which Vail is likely to lose customers to Alterra as a result of the reservation system, but can feel undeniably confident that they’re taking the safest route forward. On the other hand, the vast majority of resorts are likely to put themselves in better financial positions, but with the added difficulty of managing a fluid capacity situation, and one that could prove problematic on powder days. Of course the jury’s still very much out on which system will better balance the business needs of the ski resorts, the safety concerns of the general public, and the desire of skiers to maintain their uninhibited freedom to ski. For now, all we can do is decide which policy and resort best suit our individual needs and brace ourselves for what’s sure to be a unique winter no matter where you ski. For more on this, check out Rusty Gregory’s announcement letter, as well as this list of IKON resort policies.
#2: With Winter on the Horizon and Growing Familiarity With Working From Home, Ski Towns Bracing for Potential Population Boom:
In other, “this winter is sure to be different,” news, we caught an article this week from Colorado Public Radio that takes a closer look at how ski towns are poised for a more persistent population increase in the coming months, and the implications it could have on ski communities’ infrastructures. To be sure, this isn’t a new idea, and it’s something we’ve found ourselves discussing multiple times here on Chairlift Chat. Still, as winter creeps closer, we’re starting to get a better picture of the likely reality of the upcoming season. Once again, the key metrics used in this article to cite the impending population boom are real estate related. According to Tim Estin, an Aspen based real estate broker, “Some of the most experienced and seasoned real estate brokers have never seen activity like what we have experienced in July and August.” That sentiment echoes one which we shared earlier this year in a highlight regarding home values in ski towns here in Vermont. In addition to purchasing new homes, renters have also extended their typical seasonal stays, often for multiple months. These two trends indicate that ski towns are all but guaranteed to see an increase in population, for this winter at the very least.
Now that this population increase feels all but certain, preparations for the new reality are underway, often resulting in the identification of highly nuanced scenarios. For example, at the St. Vincent Hospital in Leadville, CO, doctors are used to seeing a high volume of sports related injuries as a result of all of the athletes that visit the area. Now, according to chief medical officer, Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger, “what we’re seeing now are these second-home owners, people who are coming from other places to spend extended periods of time in Leadville and who come with a whole host of other medical issues.” In other words, putting the Covid-19 capacity related concerns to the side, mountain town hospitals are expecting to suddenly have to become familiar with treating a much wider range of ailments than ever before. While this isn’t exactly a “problem”, per say, it is one of many nuanced adjustments that mountain town locals are expecting to have to make as they suddenly find themselves hosting a larger population. For more on this story, check out the full report from Colorado Public Radio.
#3: Bluebird Backcountry Announces New Venue and Operation Plans for 2020-2021 Season:
Feeling overwhelmed by the first two highlights this week? If you’re not feeling particularly excited about the prospects of crowd management and potentially overpopulated ski communities, it turns out there is an option that’s somewhere in between a resort experience and a full backcountry commitment. Well, if you live anywhere near Kremmling, CO anyways.
If you’ve been following us since last winter, then you might already know about Bluebird Backcountry. If not, a quick recap: Bluebird Backcountry is a brand new ski resort experience that offers backcountry terrain to uphill skiers, as well as essential amenities. Last season, they piloted their vision by opening their “resort” for one month at Colorado’s Whiteley Peak. There, the team offered $50 day tickets for up to 300 skiers per day. For that price, guests had access to 300 acres of unguided terrain, plus a basic warming tent at the base of the mountain. Additional services included rental equipment and guided tour offerings. Now, after a successful stint, the team’s upped the ante once again for the upcoming season with an even more fleshed out version of their business model, and honestly, it’s pretty exciting.
This week, Bluebird Backcountry shared a slew of announcements, all of which signal a bright future for the operation. First and foremost, they’ve relocated to a new mountain which offers substantially more terrain. Now, guests can explore 1,200 acres on their own, or 3,000 acres of guided terrain. Additionally, the resort now offers an expanded base lodge, two on-mountain warming huts, as well as car camping. Beyond infrastructure updates, the resort also polished its business offering. Rather than being open for a single month, this season the resort will be open from 12/24/20 - 3/28/21, Thursday-Monday. For access, the resort is selling 500 early bird season passes at a rate of $299, after which a price increase is expected. Finally, in addition to all of these significant upgrades, the resort is also focusing on avalanche and safety education, creating a great environment for those looking to get into backcountry skiing in the safest, most controlled environment possible. For skiers who are considering opting out of a season pass this year, but are nervous about jumping straight into the backcountry, Bluebird Backcountry offers an ideal solution. To learn more about the latest from this exciting new resort, check out their official website.
#4: Ski Racing Check in - U.S. Ski Team Heads to Europe for Training, NorAm Schedule in Question:
Finally, we’ll round out this week’s news in a non-traditional way: by bringing you up to speed on the latest from the world of ski racing. Typically we put these highlights front and center of our weekly news recaps, however this week’s stories regarding the upcoming season felt more deserving of center stage. Still, we know our readers are always craving ski racing news, so we’d be remiss not to share with you the latest updates!
First and foremost on that list is the belated news that multiple U.S. Ski Teams have officially traveled to Europe for a fall training session. As you might recall, the U.S. Ski Team has been at a bit of a disadvantage this off season as their typical training plans have been completely upended as a result of the pandemic. In most years, teams will travel to locations in Europe and South America to complete on-snow training camps. This Summer, due to global travel restrictions, athletes have had to train where they could, meaning a short stint at Colorado’s Copper Mountain as well as Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. This month however, the men’s and women’s speed teams, women’s tech team, and men’s development team are in Europe, finally training on conditions most similar to those of actual races. From here, the next steps in terms of travel plans are yet to be determined as the final FIS schedule is still unannounced. Depending on which events are confirmed to start the season, there may or may not be an opportunity for U.S. Athletes to return home before the season kicks off. Fortunately the final decision regarding scheduling isn’t too far off as the FIS expects to make that announcement on October 3rd.
In other ski racing news, the 2020-2021 edition of the NorAm circuit is currently in jeopardy. The circuit, which features a mix of U.S. and Canadian athletes and requires a significant amount of border crossing, is currently struggling to find a way forward during a time of intense travel restrictions. So far, the tour has had to scrap events scheduled from November through the first half of February. As a result, organizers are clinging to the hope that they’ll be able to pull off a modified schedule from mid-February through April. Unfortunately not much more is known about the current situation as both the U.S. Ski Team and Alpine Canada are both being tight lipped. To know what we know, we’ll turn you over to Ski Racing Magazine.