Ski area COO Breakfast centered around COVID-19 changes to the ski season
DILLON — The Centura Health COO Breakfast kicked off this year in a virtual format on Thursday, which allowed ski areas to get creative in how they would present their annual spiels about the upcoming ski season. COOs at the local ski areas — Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort, Keystone Resort and Loveland Ski Area — reflected on the last ski season, summer operations and shared more details about the upcoming season, which, unsurprisingly included a heavy emphasis on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated precautions.
St. Anthony Summit Medical Center Infection Prevention Manager Aaron Parmet discussed the health of the community and brought up the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Summit County.
“The good news is we still have the time and ability to keep that under control as a community and we can help as a health care system because we all want to have a happy, healthy community and a great ski season,” Parmet said.
Parmet noted that there have been a lot of visitors to the county this summer and that if the community can do things safely, the positive effects of visitors can be enjoyed without the negative effects of rising COVID-19 cases. He said that people are typically infected by the people they spend the most time around, as visitors tend to infect other visitors they are traveling with and locals tend to infect their friends, family and coworkers.
A-Basin COO Alan Henceroth kicked off the individual ski area updates, going over last season’s great year until the shutdown hit on March 14.
“Despite the challenges we ended up having a pretty good summer,” Henceroth said. “We reopened for skiing for a couple of weeks, our business operations went really well and we had a great capital season building a couple chairlifts. The biggest news of the summer was opening our aerial adventure park.”
After a summer full of projects, Henceroth noted that the new via ferrata course is expected to be ready for summer 2021. He said that as the ski season approaches, the top priority needs to be COVID-19 safety. Henceroth joked that A-Basin has been living in the dark ages but has finally built RFID gates for the 2020-21 season. Two lifts were replaced at the Basin: the Molly Hogan and the Pallavicini chairlifts. While new, the Pallavicini lift capacity was not expanded and remains a two-person chair. Henceroth said this is because the capacity of the lift is ideal for the terrain and the two-person chair fits with the ski area’s culture and vibe.
As ski areas are expected to limit the number of visitors on the mountain this year, Henceroth said A-Basin will do this by limiting the number of season and any day passes sold, which don’t require reservations and allowing a limited number of lift tickets to be purchased online and in advance only. In addition, Ikon passholders must make reservations online to visit the ski area. He noted that limitations will mostly impact the 20-30 busiest days of the season.
While food and beverage establishments will be open, the bars themselves will be closed and Henceroth encouraged people to bring their own lunches, particularly if concerned about going inside.
“Our real objective here is to keep people skiing. We want them to take advantage of the services they can, but we really want to keep them out there skiing, having a great time. I know we’re famous for some very social raucous apres ski type affairs but those are going to be on hold for a while,” Henceroth said.
Keystone and Breckenridge
Keystone General Manager Jody Churich and Breckenridge COO John Buhler led the Keystone and Breckenridge update in a TV news style report and finally addressed the elephant in the room from last year’s race to open. Churich, who came to the resort just prior to opening for the 2019-20 season, noted that the resort had recently invested in high-tech snow machines.
“Excitement was high as we were primed for our earliest opening in more than 20 years and to be the first resort open in North America when all of a sudden out of nowhere, in swooped A-Basin. Wow, what a bummer that was but congrats to Al and your team,” Churich said.
Buhler explained that summer operations amid the pandemic prepared the resorts for the winter ahead. Churich said the focus of the winter is safety, having a successful season from start to finish and prioritizing passholders. She noted there will be consistent protocols across Vail Resorts and that facial coverings will be required to access the mountains and in all parts of operations, including lift lines and while loading, riding and unloading lifts and gondolas. Churich also addressed the lack of a race to open this year.
“For us, this year it is about giving the resort a little more time to open with some more terrain and space for guests to spread out. Don’t worry though Al, We’ll be coming for you again soon,” Churich said.
Keystone and Breckenridge are the only Summit County resorts that will require a reservation for anyone looking to ski or snowboard on the mountain. To prioritize passholders, the resorts will give passholders exclusive early season access, as no lift tickets will be sold until Dec. 8. Passholders can request as many week-of reservations as availability and pass type allows for and can make up to seven reservations for priority days, which are Dec. 8 through April 4.
Churich said the majority of restaurants will be open with limited capacity, spaced seating and cashless transactions. Ready-to-go hot and cold food options will be available at quick serve restaurants and as bars will be closed, packaged beer and wine will be available at most locations.
On the sustainability side of things Buhler noted that the company is working with TerraCycle to bring picnic tables, chairs and a new terrain park feature made out of recycled snack and candy wrappers to the resorts.
Keystone will still offer night skiing, snow tubing, activities at the Nordic center and uphill access. Uphill access will follow the same rules as previous seasons, but guests should have a mask on hand at all times.
Copper Mountain President and General Manager Dustin Lyman also reflected on a successful season of summer activities as the resort opened a new tennis court and two new mountain biking trails and hosted Woodward summer camp and drive-in outdoor movies. Lyman talked about the new hotel that will open this season, Element 29, and said that a new restaurant, Sawmill Pizza and Taphouse, will also open this season.
Copper’s 22-foot superpipe and other terrain parks like Red’s Backyard, Woodward Mountain Park and Peace Park will also be available. As is the theme this year, Lyman said the resort will be managing volume, promoting physical distancing and requiring masks.
“We’ve decided to push back our opening date to Monday, Nov. 30, in an effort to avoid large crowds and invite guests to spread out with more terrain and lifts available,” Lyman said.
The resort will use a parking reservation system and is expanding takeaway dining and resortwide delivery service.
Loveland’s presentation got to the point in a total of about five minutes — by comparison, Breckenridge and Keystone’s report was approximately 20 minutes. The ski area mainly let news clips and videos of Mayor Parker the snow dog. News clips highlighting the past year at Loveland were shown, including opening day, the Snowstang bus service, Lift 6 replacement, big snow dumps, Bandit the rescue dog in training, mountaintop matrimony and the closing of the ski area in March.
General Manager Rob Goodell emphasized that masks must be worn and worn correctly over the mouth and nose. Parker and other dogs at Loveland demonstrated proper health protocols in a video, including wearing facial coverings, staying home when sick, physical distancing as well as rules like no camping out this season, following floor directional decals and not leaving personal items in the cafeteria.
“Please help us spread the word for the expectations for everyone on what this season is going to look like,” Goodell urged.
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