What ski season will likely look like this year

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COLORADO SPRINGS — One of the state’s largest industries was the first to shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now with multiple resorts, announcing reopening dates, the look of ski season is starting to take shape.

Last week, Winter Park announced it would open on November 18th. Thursday Vail Resorts announced Keystone would open on November 6th and provided details of what to expect:

  • Face Coverings required to get on the mountain.
  • Chair lifts & Gondolas Guests skiing or riding together will be seated together, two singles on opposite sides of a four-person lift, two singles or two doubles on opposite sides of a six-person lift, singles on opposite sides of a gondola.
  • Reservations required for all skiers, pass holders and lift tickets alike (more details below)
  • Lodges and dining facilities will be open and, in preliminary plans, operate under the state’s restaurant guidance.
  • Ski School will be offered, but changes will be made to its typical process.

“The goal for us this year is not only to open but to remain open throughout the entire season,” said Will Shoemaker, the senior communications strategist for Vail Resorts. “So, it’s really ensuring a successful season from beginning to end for us.”

Shoemaker added that it is one of the company’s three goals, the other two being safety for customers, staff, and communities in which they operate as well as prioritizing pass holders.

At Vail Resorts’ mountains, only pass holders, whether Epic season pass or Epic Day Pass, will be allowed to ski until December 7. December 8 will be the beginning of lift ticket sales.

Pass holders will get seven priority days that can be booked throughout the year, with some holidays like Christmas not counting against the days.

Other than that, reservations for everyone will be open a week before the day a person wants to ski. The reservations will stay open until they are all filled.

“From a safety point of view, both from COVID and other incidences, those mountains are getting busier and busier every day, a lot of collisions on the mountain,” said Rick Uhl. “So, if we limit how many people are up there, I think it’s going to be safer all the way around. So, I’m a big fan of the reservation system.”

Downhill skiing was one of the first industries to be closed by the pandemic, a few days before restaurants and bars. With it, went Rick Uhl’s business. He owns The Ski Shop on South Tejon in Colorado Springs.

“By, about March 15th it was just a ghost town in here. We just ended up closing a lot earlier than we normally do. There was just nothing to do.”

He was skeptical as he prepared to open in July. His customers were less, so he opened on August 4th.

“Opening day, we had people waiting out that front door. Not a lot, just a couple coming in,” he recalled, “It was just encouraging to see people, they still want to keep skiing, they want to get their passes, they want to get out of their houses.”

Uhl anticipates a more enjoyable ski year, helped by fewer people on the mountain. He envisions less tourist traffic and says he would not be offended if the reservation system sticks around longer than the pandemic does.

“There are thousands of people. You can’t find parking anywhere; we’re hiking up, taking shuttles from other places, at what point is it too many people on the mountain?” Uhl said.

The other Colorado ski giant opposite Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company (which owns Winter Park), has not announced specifics of opening.

Though, mountain bikes have hit melted ski slopes all summer long.

“It’s been a successful summer. We’ve been able to get people up on the mountain to enjoy mountain adventures so, that has worked,” said Jen Miller, the Public Relations and Communications Manager for Winter Park.

In that time, Miller has observed good usage of face masks by guests. Miller says they have a good idea of how lodging will take place, allowing for 24 hours in between room reservations to allow for intensive cleaning.

With customers of his own already fitting in for new boots, Uhl is excited for the season to start. After a longer wait than most years, he is okay with whatever it takes.

“I think that [the ski companies] are paranoid and they’re overreacting a little bit and I think they’re going to over-respond, which I think is fantastic. Keep everybody safe and skiing quite honestly.”

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