I went skiing last weekend.
That admission is going to elicit a certain amount of both shame and applause due to our current atmosphere, all depending on your personal opinion on the level of severity necessary when it comes to social distancing.
Maybe you take it as a brazen disregard for what the world is facing with COVID-19. Perhaps you could think of fewer places to find better isolation than on a slope with six feet of circumference attached to your boots.
Alas, as local schools were putting a pause on the academic year and we were truly beginning to comprehend the steps our society needed to take in order to combat the spread of coronavirus, my family went ahead with our planned weekend to Okemo. At the very least, maybe it would give the kids one last stretch of normalcy before the reality of quarantine set in.
It might have done that. For a day, at least.
There was a decidedly lighter crowd on Saturday at the base of Jackson Gore, certainly not the level one might expect on an otherwise perfect spring-skiing day in mid-March. Only a few ski areas (Berkshire East, Catamount, Jay Peak, Burke, and Mount Abram) had used the process of social distancing as reason to close for the season. At Okemo, where Vail Resorts had initially enacted some preventive measures (no hot food being sold, encouraging riding chairlifts only with members of your own party), it didn’t exactly seem like concern was the primary focus.
Twice, in fact, my son and I had to shuffle off from other skiers trying to merge into the queue to join us on the lift. “We’re going to ride alone,” I had to tell them. That was our choice. But nor was there any impetus on the part of the Okemo lift staff to make that the norm or the priority.
The skiing was fantastic, the kind of spring bump day that has your legs burning and your kids wiped out by mid-afternoon. I skied until last chair smiling to myself, eager to boot up all over again on Sunday.
A few days later, the entire New England ski industry has effectively shut down for the season. (Oh, there’s a chance Superstar lasts into June, but let’s not exactly count on that either right now.) Your lift-served ski season is probably over.
A week ago, quarantining myself in a lodge seemed to be the best scenario possible. And what was the harm anyway with Bretton Woods, Gunstock, Waterville Valley, and Cannon staying open while everybody else shut down? The public’s balance of shame and applause when it came to those decisions went to the extreme in both directions.
What’s the right thing to do? Who am I to say? I went skiing when some probably figured it was the most selfish thing to do.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu mandated restaurant closures throughout the Granite State, yet Waterville Valley, which his family owns, remained open through mid-week, when it finally shut down for the season. State-run Cannon also lasted until Wednesday afternoon, when Sununu released a statement that read, “It has become clear today that large amounts of public congregation is occurring at Cannon Mountain. With the weekend quickly approaching, I have instructed Cannon management to cease operations by end of business today.”
Waterville Valley posted a message to its skiers and riders with some criticism levied at those insisting that it shut down.
“Over the past week, Waterville Valley Resort has modified our operations to continue to responsibly provide a valuable outdoor recreation service in an effort to support our employees and the skiing community in search of joy and fun during this trying time…. Despite these efforts, and despite the extremely limited personal contact inherent in our reduced operations, our continuing operations have been met with outcry by many who choose to misrepresent our efforts and have created an environment that has incited people to act irresponsibly to the point of becoming abusive and threatening to our staff.”
“The last 72 hours have presented an unprecedented challenge for ski area operators around the globe,” Gunstock president Tom Day wrote. “The unfolding COVID-19 crisis has forced the closing of ski areas overseas and here in the United States. Those of us who make our living outdoors know what it means to our community to have space to play and clear our heads, and these times call for that now more than ever. But we must be sensitive to the rising public health and safety concerns and we agree with the Gunstock Area Commission that it is in the best interest of our employees, guests, and local community to cease winter operations at the close of business March 18, 2020. We believe this is a necessary step to limit the spread and risks associated with the COVID-19 virus.”
In Vermont, Smugglers’ Notch held out until Tuesday before eventually caving in and shutting things down.
“A significant majority of people who communicated with me supported our decision to stay open,” Smuggs owner Bill Stritzler wrote in a statement. “However, it is with sadness that I have reached the conclusion Smuggs must acknowledge the best advice of health authorities concerning schools and apply the advice to mountain operations effective this Tuesday evening.”
As this thing gets worse, it’s likely that communities throughout New England will need to remain at home in order to slow the spread. And yes, the war of finger-wagging and chest-thumping will likely remain in many social media circles.
Just keep Superstar in shape, all right? We’re all going to need it.
Showing strength in community
Hats off to local resorts which helped out their workers in the face of shutdown. Killington handed out free groceries — two tractor trailers worth of meats, veggies, milk, eggs, etc. — to its employees and ambassadors over the last two days. Jay Peak handed out lunch last Monday, as well as groceries to its staff. Sunday River did the same, and also posted a roundup of ways to help out in the local community.
Survey says, these are the best burgers in New England ski towns
Seeing as most restaurants are shut down for the time being, ,maybe you can’t belly up to the bar anytime soon and order one of the best burgers in ski country. But the odds are that you can call each spot on the list and order one for pickup. Ski Journal correspondent Josh Laskin has the roundup, according to a survey conducted via Facebook of New England skiers.
Steals and deals
With skiing on hold, there aren’t many deals to speak of. However, we will note how Indy Pass is responding to the recent crisis. If those who purchased the Indy Pass, good at 47 independent resorts across Canada and the U.S., were unable to redeem any tickets, they will receive a 30 percent discount on the pass next season. However, if you purchased the pass after Feb. 17 and were not able to use it, you’ll receive a full credit toward a pass next season. Full details here.
New England Ski Journal TV visits Jay Peak Resort
What makes Jay Peak Resort special? New England Ski Journal TV visited the popular Vermont resort for a look inside what makes it one of New England’s best.