It’s anybody’s guess what next week might bring in terms of COVID-19 regulations and restrictions, never mind what we should expect during the wintertime.
But as the calendar throttles toward September, which is truly when our minds start shifting toward the upcoming skiing and riding season, we at least have our first inkling of what the experience might look like in the midst of the pandemic.
In an open letter posted on Magic Mountain’s web site, president Geoff Hathaway outlined some of the procedures that may take place this winter at the Londonderry, Vt. ski area.
“The season will most likely start with some type of restricted capacity scenario–and stay that way–until a vaccine is widely distributed nationwide which could be sometime in February if all goes well,” Hathaway wrote. “But we are getting prepared (and we need your help), for a manageable, but fun, ski season in the midst of a pandemic.”
While Hathaway emphasized that nothing is set in stone, some limits to expect this winter at Magic include:
— A daily skier visit capacity of 50 percent of Magic’s hourly lift capacity (approximately 1,700 skiers total).
— A 25 percent capacity for the lodge’s indoor seating capacity (approximately 200 guests).
— Season pass holders will be provided the first opportunity to reserve spots at Magic up to a certain day each week.
The limitations on skiers isn’t anything huge; Hathaway admitted that only during holiday periods does Magic welcome more skiers and riders than what it will consider its cutoff point this season. Also, Magic’s expanded lift system will help alleviate any lines.
Like other resorts in New England though, it will be the limitations on how many visitors can enter the lodge that will pose the biggest challenge.
Magic was the first New England ski area to openly discuss what skiers and riders might expect this year, following in the recent footsteps of Aspen, whose CEO, Mike Kaplan, said there would be new procedures to follow this season, “some of them annoying.” Montana’s Big Sky Resort announced it would open on Thanksgiving with “social distancing practices in all facilities, facial covering requirements, and improved procedures and technology to promote contactless transactions.”
But while it might not be too much of a challenge for the likes of Magic to limit its number of skiers, particularly with increased lift capacity, similar restrictions at other places in the Northeast are going to come with more challenges.
It seems logical to imagine that similar restrictions (50 percent skier capacity, 25 percent lodge capacity) will apply at most ski areas this winter. That’s going to force the need to have both season pass-holders and day-trippers make reservations, a situation that might be easier at some places, and a consistent headache at others. Grabbing a reservation at quieter ski areas like Black Mountain, Magic, Mad River Glen, Cannon, Ragged, and perhaps even Saddleback, in its return to the skiing scene this upcoming season, might not be so much of a hassle.
Now, imagine trying to grab one for Wachusett on any given Saturday, presuming the Massachusetts ski area is running at 50 percent capacity. What does a normally-bustling Sunday River look like at 50 percent? How about Stowe?
Will scoring lift tickets for the family be like trying to break through a busy signal on Ticketmaster? Should skiers and riders plan on bagged lunches, even with the prospect of a bitter cold keeping them out of the lodge? Will there even be any après scene to think of? What about group lessons?
It’s too soon to even guess. For now, all we have are some theoretical parameters.
“How long some type of restricted capacity scenario lasts into the season remains to be seen, as well as at what level,” Hathaway wrote. “But skiing is a sport that can be safely done with an airborne virus because it is outside and we traditionally wear face masks, goggles and gloves anyway.”
Indeed. It’s not like skiing is going to be cancelled this year.
Just don’t expect it to look, or feel, like any other season you’ve ever experienced.