On Tuesday, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced COVID-19 guidelines for one of California’s largest recreation sectors: ski resorts.
Due to the isolation of skiing and snowboarding, all ski resorts will be allowed to stay open regardless of what COVID-19 county tier the resort is located in. This will allow the famed Tahoe-area resorts in El Dorado, Nevada, and Placer Counties to remain open and keep one of California’s largest tourism sectors open at a time when most are either extremely limited or, such as in the case of amusement parks, completely shut down. Other resorts, such as Mammoth Mountain in Mono County and Big Bear in San Bernardino County, will also benefit from the resorts not being shut down.
Many of the CDPH guidelines are standard COVID-19 measures, such as face masks, social distancing of 6 feet, restricting most people to outside, and regular disinfection of where skiers and snowboarders commonly go.
However, other guidelines take into account the unique challenges of ski resorts. Ski lift lines must have 6 feet social distancing despite the closeness to slopes. Larger gondolas can only be filled to 25% capacity at a time. Ski lessons will be severely limited due to group gathering rules, with ski teams also being limited due to social distancing guidelines.
Many resorts have also taken further measures by halting all lift tickets sales the day of, and asking people to buy in advance instead. The number of season passes have also been greatly reduced in an attempt to not overcrowd. Reserved numbers of lift tickets per day have also been capped at most resorts to avoid overcrowding during busier days.
While many resorts opened Thanksgiving weekend due in part to snow making machines, the industry had been one of the few that had not received specific guidelines since March and had been waiting on them to reopen safely.
Despite the limitations, many residents and business owners in the resort towns are thrilled to be allowed to stay open during the pandemic.
Ski resorts open despite initial COVID-19 worries
“We were afraid that they would do to what they have done to theme parks and what they have done off and on to casinos and just shut it all down for the season,” Stefan Martin, a Tahoe-area hotel owner who caters to skiers during the winter, said in a Globe interview. “But they didn’t. In fact, except for face masks and us having to clean a lot more, it’s looking the same as last year. Believe it or not, some of [the tourists] even said it was helping them, as the masks and neck gaiters they have been wearing are keeping their faces and necks warm in the colder temperatures.”
“A lot of resort towns depend on this. Some, like Big Bear and Tahoe, have enough summer stuff going on to help out, but in Tahoe, but others are much more dependent on the winter. Besides restaurants, that have to do largely take out now, the towns have been pretty much been saved by this.”
“And, look, skiing, even when part of a group, is largely solitary. It’s not flooding out like amusement parks. Only time it’s like that is waiting in the lift lines on busy days, and even then the new social distancing measures take care of that. This is a lot of money that the resorts, hotels, shops, and other places pull in, so we’re looking at the ski industry in California, for now, being saved this year, as well as several towns and even counties not falling flat economically.”
California ski industry officials have said that they expect a full season even with COVID-19 restrictions.
“All of our resorts have been diligently working since March to ensure their operations can adhere to ever-changing public health and safety requirements,” noted Ski California president Mike Reitzell in a statement. “Some procedures will vary by resort, but all resorts are aligned in their desire to have a full ski season.”
The California ski industry, which generated $3.2 billion in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, is not expected to take a large loss this coming ski season. Other surrounding businesses in ski resorts and towns, such as hotels, hostels, and restaurants, are still expected to follow their own industry COVID-19 guidelines.
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