Jamie Georgelos is accustomed to getting a lot of questions each fall.
He is the long-time ski division manager at Alpin Haus in Amsterdam and Clifton Park, and this is typically the busiest time of the year as skiers and riders get ready for the winter season.
But the questions this year are different. COVID-19 has changed the conversation.
What everyone is asking is, “What will it be like at ski areas this winter? How are they going to operate?”
One thing that’s certain: There will be a ski season.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed that areas in New York will be allowed to open as soon as Nov. 6. However, due to public health concerns, there will be practices in place that underscore it will not be business as usual.
The “new normal” will include the now common standards for public gatherings, such as wearing face masks except when eating, drinking or on the slopes; social distancing; reduced capacity in ski lodges; and, limits to those on lifts at one time. There also will also be restrictions on how many people can be in a ski lesson, how parking area shuttles will operate, and how rental gear will be handled,
How individual areas choose to handle certain procedures remains to be seen.
For instance: “Can you buy a lift ticket on premises, or must they be purchased online or by phone in advance? Do season-pass holders get guaranteed access? Will parking reservations be required to manage skier capacity limitations? Can ski boots be put on indoors, or will the car be the new base lodge? Do skiers have to sign in on arrival to aid in potential contact tracing? How will the wearing of masks be enforced? Do uphill facilities like The Saddle Lodge at Gore have capacity maximums? How about on below-zero days? Will ski area employees be tested regularly? Are ski storage lockers available and accessible? Will there be nursery and child care facilities available? Will school or club buses be allowed?”
Despite facing many of these issues for the first time, there is a shared optimism in the ski business right now, much of it based on the past summer when there was great interest and high participation in outdoor activities like golf, biking, and hiking. Plus, while most organized team sports are on the shelf for the winter, snowsports could be an alternative in waiting.
Between increased demand and limitations on goods manufactured abroad, finding the usual selection of gear could become a challenge.
There seems to be less of a concern about skier compliance. Twenty years ago, few skiers wore helmets. As safety concerns grew, helmet wearing has become commonplace. Ski area operators believe that kind of reaction will govern skier behavior in the season ahead.
The optimism is spread across the snowsports landscape.
“We know we are going to get snow and getting outside is a good thing,” said Reece Brown of the Cross Country Ski Areas Association who last week predicted that member areas will see a large increase in participation this winter.
Also helping public perception is assurances from areas that if the season is cut short, pass holders will be eligible for prorated refunds on season tickets. This happened some places last winter and has been a popular feature for multi-area pass programs like Epic (Okemo, Stowe, Mt Snow, Hunter) and Ikon (Stratton, Killington, Sugarbush, Windham) where early season pass sales are up.
The three Olympic Regional Development Authority areas (Gore, Whiteface and Belleayre) squandered an opportunity last spring by not refunding a portion of season-ticket costs when it shut down its areas in mid-March. This year, ORDA is giving pass holders a chance to postpone a year if they choose to do that before Dec. 1.
SKI TRAVEL LESS APPEALING
Local areas are eager to get rolling, especially now that distance ski travel is less appealing. Reduced prices for trips to the West and to Europe are tempting right now, but the pandemic and the prospect of quarantining on return to New York are giving skiers second thoughts before booking.
Even something as routine as a weekend trip to Vermont has become problematic. The Green Mountain state looks at New York by county and if incidence of the virus raises above a threshold, visitors could be required to quarantine for up to 14 days. That list is updated each Tuesday, which makes advanced planning for a weekend trip, especially for the holidays, much trickier than normal. Needless to say, areas in Vermont have adopted very liberal cancellation policies for the coming winter.
Apres ski, long a part of the appeal of the sport, will be trimmed back considerably this winter.
Ski competitions will see changes, too. The Women’s World Cup races scheduled for Killington in November were canceled months ago and international competition in North America has been shut down this winter. At the local level, some school and US Ski and Snowboard Association races will still be held, but there will be modifications. Spectator attendance will be limited, outdoor scoreboards where crowds would gather will be eliminated, and expect post-race award ceremonies to be low-key indoor presentations.
Despite the obstacles confronting the business this winter, the appetite for skiing in our area seems to be robust. Alpin Haus’ Georgelos reports the seasonal sales and lease activity is “great.”
And, for those who don’t want to put warm bagels in their boots for the ride to the slopes, there are even plenty of heated boot bags in stock and ready for area parking lots throughout the region
EMPIRE STATE GAMES CANCELED
The Empire State Winter Games that annually have drawn more than 2.000 competitors from across the state have joined the list of events canceled this winter.
The wide-ranging menu of citizen events has been part of the seasonal schedule since 1980.
In recent years, it has been organized by a group of sponsors in the Adirondacks.
Tommy Biesemeyer, the hard-luck ski racing competitor from Keene, has announced his retirement from competition.
The 31-year-old raced internationally as a member of the US Alpine team for 10 years. He was the 2010 NORAM overall champion. His top World Cup finish was an eighth-place performance in a Super G Event.
His career was plagued by injuries, the last one on a training run the day before he was scheduled to start in the downhill event in the 2018 Winter Olympics. With Biesemeyer’s retirement, there will not be a New Yorker on the US Ski Team this winter for the first time in more than 40 years.
WARREN MILLER FILM NEXT WEEK
It won’t be a gathering at the Palace Theatre this time around, but the annual Warren Miller film will be offered in a virtual format on Saturday, Nov. 7.
“Future Retro” is the 71st Miller film and will feature legends like the Egan Brothers, as well as current athletes.
Tickets for the video streaming are $30 for a household and will include access to a one-hour pre-show. Tickets can be purchased at warrenmiller.com.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected]