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What will a snow trip to local mountain resorts be like in the age of coronavirus?



Popular snow resorts throughout Southern California, and across the country, are gearing up for this year’s snow season, faced not only with the uncertainty of how much snowfall will show up, but also the added rules and regulations in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Each resort has unique plans when it comes to balancing access to the mountain playground and running a business, while also keeping the facilities from being too packed and crowds safe.

Mountain High, one of the closest resorts to major Southern California cities, plans on cutting daily attendance levels in half, implementing a hands-free check-in service, with reservations required before hitting the slopes to ski or snowboard.

“It’s a moving target based on the amount of terrain,” John McColly, chief marketing officer for Mountain High in Wrightwood. “The other key issue is how will we keep people safe once they are on the resort. In one sense, we’re blessed our sport is an outdoor activity. Once you’re out on the mountain, you’re not butting up on people, you have protective gear already with face masks.”

But there are “pinch points,” such as rental areas, food and beverages spots and ticket areas, where typically long lines form and adjustments must be made. Tickets, rentals and lessons reservations will all be going online.

Walk-up windows will now be used just for customer service, with people getting tickets from a dozen new kiosks where users can scan QR codes on their phones or bar codes from receipts.

Lessons will have five students per instructor, half the usual.

“The general gist is to kind of keep people moving – there may not be indoor seating inside, we’re not selling full-day lesson packages,” he said. “We’re trying to keep people moving.”

Season passes are the best way to get on the mountain because those will be unrestricted and won’t require reservations.

McColly predicts the mountain, based on what happened this summer with people flocking to nature, will be a place people will want to go.

“All summer, the trend has been that everyone is doing everything they can to get outdoors,” he said. “The mountain biking, you can’t buy one, they are sold out. We’re seeing that locally and nationally. We’re hoping that means good business coming our way.

“Are we going to be able to meet the demand? The short answer is yes.”

Last year’s sudden pandemic shutdowns were “crushing,” he said, just as several big snow storms showed up that could have turned it into one of the best snow seasons in years.

The hope is this upcoming season will make up for lost business and time on the mountain, and people will seek out places close to home, as they did all summer.

“People still want to get out and recreate, but they are doing it locally,” he said. “What they aren’t doing is going on a plane or planning national ski vacations.”

The changes could mean more efficient ways of doing business in the long run, he said.

“We’re fairly small, fairly nimble, we have been planning all summer for this,” he said. “We’ve been putting a lot of thought into this and I think we’re prepared.”

Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains, is hoping to have swift moving lift lines because of its six-person chairlifts, where families and groups that come together can stay together. Guests will not be required to ride a chairlift with people they do not know.

The  300-foot moving carpet lift in the Children’s Learning Center also lends itself to healthy social distancing, an announcement noted.

Snow Valley will require face coverings that align with CDC recommendations whenever physical distancing cannot be achieved, not just indoors, but also outside, except when a person is eating or drinking.

The resort is finalizing operational plans that will allow for appropriate spacing between parties in lift and ticket lines, ski and snowboard lessons, sledding, employee spaces and food and beverage outlets.

There will also be added cleaning and disinfection strategies in high-touch areas such as restrooms, restaurants, dining facilities, ticket offices and rental and retail shops. Daily staff wellness checks will be in place for guest and employee safety.

Big Bear Resort, which includes Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, is still working on final approvals for this year’s plans, but the mountain is planning on opening, said Justin Kanton, spokesman for the resort.

The safety guidelines put in place over summer will be built upon, with some refinements, he said. Those include wearing facial coverings, increased sanitation on the mountain, social distancing when possible and if you’re not feeling well, stay home.

It won’t be the typical snow season, he noted.

“Given everything going on right now, we will have to make some operating adjustments,” he said. “All we can ask is, be patient, flexible and work with us and we’ll try and provide the best experience possible based on the what the regulatory guidelines are at the time.”

Mammoth Mountain, a much larger resort about six hours from Southern California, but a popular destination for Los Angeles and Orange County snow enthusiasts, has also been preparing for the upcoming season by spending about $1 million on upgrades adding coronavirus safeguards.

Mark Brownlie, president of Mammoth Resorts, said summer travelers helped prepare the resort for adapting for the winter season.

“We’ve had a great summer so far, we know that it’s been a lot of what we’ve had to do in Mammoth, as well as the rest of the world – embrace the vagueness,” he said. “That’s been challenging, but we’ve seen that using masks and working together with a community, we can open – and remain open – as we did with the bike park and other businesses. We have a bit of experience, and cautious optimism.”

As a snow resort, they are used to making swift adjustments when Mother Nature brings unpredictable weather. But this season requires not just adapting to storms, but also being considerate and having empathy for others, he said. “With those two guiding principles, we are going to take on winter.”

The resort will redesign lift lines so there’s room for social distancing, much like it did before the full shutdowns last season and throughout summer.

Food areas will be expanded outdoors, with more options spread out through the mountain such as food trucks set up for quick to-go orders.

“These experiences provide innovative and high-quality, grab-and-go food in a great outdoor dining environment,” Brownlie said.

Like other resorts, priority will be given to season-pass holders and the number of tickets sold – by advance purchase only – will be tightly regulated to avoid overcrowding. Walk-up window sales will be eliminated and undated tickets will be discontinued.

Opening day at Mammoth Mountain, which has about 3,500 acres that can be skied, is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Even with safety protocols in place, one big factor remains unknown: whether the snow will show up. Meteorologists have said this year is shaping up to be a La Nina year, which can mean cold, dry weather, though it’s not clear what it will mean for snow resorts.

“My experience at Mammoth over the years has shown me that the north-south divide in La Nina can be very good for both Mammoth and Squaw,” Brownlie said. “Like I said though, we know that we only rent Mammoth from Mother Nature.”

Source: Orange County Register

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