COVID-19 restrictions on indoor spaces pushed more people outdoors over the summer, and that trend is expected to continue in the coming months as more people express interest in visiting ski areas during the fall and winter of 2020.
Snowsports Industries of America (SIA), in a September 2020 report titled “The Impacts of COVID-19 on Snowsports Consumer Trends and Insights,” said based on information received in August, a 29% increase in participation in snowsports is expected for this coming season. That increase, while significant, isn’t quite as high as summer sports like bicycling, which saw a 59% increase, or paddlesports, which saw a 54% increase, but is also coming during a season that has already seen capacity restrictions enforced at resorts in Colorado.
The SIA report summarizes an online survey which received 1,075 fully completed responses from SIA mailing list subscribers and former attendees of the BEWI Ski & Snowboard Expo (now known as Snowbound).
“Enthusiasts are more likely to be excited than not excited for the winter season ahead and are generally confident about their ability to participate,” the SIA report notes. “In fact, a majority have already taken actions to prepare (e.g., bought a ski pass, researched COVID-related impacts, researched gear, etc.) … Overall, core participants remain excited about the upcoming season, and most hope to increase their participation in snowsports (among other outdoor activities), if possible. However, while there could be a moderate bump in spending (particularly for non-resort activities), any increase will likely not be of the magnitude seen for bicycling and other non-winter sports seen in the spring and summer.”
Increases in a variety of outdoor activities were recorded over April, May and June by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), according to a report published in August.
“Among the biggest gainers were running, cycling and hiking,” OIA reported.
Breck full through Nov. 20
The state of Colorado’s winter operating guidelines do not impose any specific limits on ski area capacity, but resorts have been enforcing self-imposed limits on participation through reservations systems, hopeful that those efforts translate to less coronavirus transmission in those areas.
Arapahoe Basin ski area unveiled a reservation system for its May re-opening, which promptly filled its 600-per-day allowance. Vail Resorts also used a reservations system at its Southern Hemisphere property, Perisher Ski Resort in Australia.
The first to open in Colorado for 2020-21, Wolf Creek has imposed a restriction of 5,000 people on the more than 1,500 acres of terrain the southern Colorado ski area currently has available, but has yet to see that restriction go into effect.
Keystone’s first week of reservations filled within days of coming online on Nov. 4, and Breckenridge — which began offering reservations on Nov. 11 — fully booked the first seven days it offered, quickly filling through Nov. 20. Keystone, at the time of this filing, still had availability Nov. 16-19.
Numbers won’t be shared
Vail and Beaver Creek Senior Communications Manager John Plack said pass holders are encouraged to keep an eye on the reservations system as full days can receive more openings if more terrain opens. The reservations system, which is not yet in its final form, is also scheduled to begin allowing cancellations on Nov. 17, which could also alter the status of already full days.
In examining how the Vail Resorts reservation system worked at Perisher this summer, CEO Rob Katz said a key lesson was learned in how critical it was for ski areas to “dial in the capacity of the resort,” Katz said.
Katz was asked about the capacity of Vail Resorts North American destinations in a call to investors on Sept. 24, but did not provide capacity numbers.
“It’s tough to give precision around that,” he said.
At Keystone’s Opening Day Nov. 6, which quickly filled its available reservation slots on Nov. 4, Vail Resorts spokesperson Loryn Roberson said the resort will not be sharing its capacity numbers this season.
“We are a publicly traded company, so that is proprietary information that we’re not going to be able to share,” Roberson said.
Roberson said as more terrain opens, however, capacity will be increased.
Vail hopes to open with 3 portals
In Vail, Plack said resort officials are hopeful that all three mountain portals — Golden Peak, Vail Village and Lionshead — will be able to offer top-to-bottom skiing for Opening Day on Nov. 20.
To ski at Vail on Nov. 20, pass holders will have to make a reservation on Nov. 18. Just as Keystone and Breckenridge’s opening days quickly filled, Vail is expected to fill, as well.
The prospect of encountering full reservation cues has some nervous.
In a letter to the Vail Daily, local mental health professional Lisa Scott said locals who find themselves unable to receive reservations for quick lunchbreak ski opportunities, to which they’ve grown accustomed, could see a “serious adverse effect” to their mental health.
“This short midweek trip allows locals to clear their heads, remember why they work so hard to live here, and most of all, keeps them connected to what fills them up and sets their heart free,” Scott wrote. “The reservation system has taken this away from locals, and instead added more sadness and stress in a time when what they need most is to feel alive on a mountain they love.”
Another take is offered in SIA’s September report.
If skiers and snowboarders are unable to ski at resorts, “enthusiasts will likely turn to snowshoeing, cross- country skiing, and non-snowsports activities,” the report notes. “In addition, winter running/hiking, sledding, uphilling, and backcountry will all see increases in participation.”
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