Less than a month ago, Ski Area Management Magazine editor Rick Kahl suggested that skiers and riders look to Australia for an idea about how the ski business will run in the United States next season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then again, if you’re an optimist, maybe you’ll want to scratch that idea.
Last week, Vail Resorts shuttered operations at two Australian properties — Mount Hotham and Falls Creek — in response to a coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne.
“We recognize that this is incredibly disappointing news,” Vail wrote in an email to customers, according to The Australian Financial Review. “However, we are focused first and foremost on health and safety, following local health guidelines and doing our part to support efforts across Victoria to address the recent rise in coronavirus cases.”
Mount Hotham had only been open for four days before the decision to close the lifts. Other activities, however, remain open at both Hotham and Falls Creek. Vail-owned Perisher, in New South Wales, remained open.
There was no government mandate for Vail to cease operations in Australia, just as there was none to do so in the States back in March. If you’ll recall though, Vail’s decision to halt its businesses on March 14 started a chain reaction which ultimately put an end to the 2019-20 season.
So, could this only be adding fuel to the flaming concerns about how COVID-19 will affect the upcoming season? And with soaring numbers coming from outside of New England, will it even matter how successful our local containment has been?
According to a survey by Glade Optics, a Colorado goggle company originally created in Vermont, 69 percent of skiers believe that COVID-19 restrictions will negatively impact next season. However, only 24 percent expect to ski less frequently. Thirty percent figure that fewer season passes will get sold for the upcoming 2020-21 season. With the amount of insurance that the resorts are offering potential buyers though, that number seems high.
Another survey, this one conducted by the Northeast Sociology Group, found that 69.5 percent said there would, at least, be a season to look forward to in the Northeast. Only 7.9 percent said there wouldn’t be, while 22.6 percent responded with uncertainty.
Kahl’s reasoning for keeping an eye on Australia had to do with the country being somewhere in the middle on the coronavirus scope in the southern hemisphere. Whereas Las Leñas and Portillo were both closed in South America, New Zealand resorts seemed like they were full-steam ahead with plans to open. Australia, like the U.S. figures to be, appeared more cautious.
But now, Vail’s decisions in Australia almost seem to be predicting our own gloom this winter. Pat Campbell, Vail Resorts’ mountain division president, said last month that they plan to be fully open in the U.S. “Even if demand is lower because people aren’t traveling as much, or they can’t travel as much,” she said. “We know that if there’s one person on the mountain or 100 people on the mountain, they deserve the full resort experience.”
That doesn’t seem to be the case in Australia though, where local businesses are saying that Vail’s decision, “blindsided everyone.”
Was this a COVID-19 safety decision that Vail made? Or was it a financial one stemming from the Melbourne lockdown?
Clearly they are taking the pandemic more seriously (hello, Florida) in Australia. So it may be that the lockdown forced Vail’s hand here. Or maybe it’s the kind of reaction we can expect to hit us as well in a few more months.
Not to get preachy, but wear a mask so we can ski, would ya?