A year ago, there was no spring skiing. Areas were closed as of March 15 due to restrictions related to COVID-19. Things were clearly better this year. There have been some great days recently: good snow, mild temperatures, moderate or no wind.
I hope you had a chance to enjoy it.
With little snow in March and general snowmaking ending a month ago, conditions on area slopes are melting away fast. Warm temperatures and rain are snow killers, and most areas without substantial new snowfall won’t have much incentive to remain open after the coming Easter weekend.
There are exceptions. The usual late season suspects — Whiteface, Jay Peak and Stowe — continue on and, of course, Killington, which expects to go into May with at least some terrain open. Like always, if you go, plan to get there early and expect your legs to start talking back to you before lunchtime as they push around the soft spring snow.
No matter if you are done for the year or ready for more, the past season has given us more that most believed just a few months ago. There was early snowfall; accommodations such as mask wearing and social
distancing did not seem to turn people away from the slopes; and, skiers adjusted to things like changing in the parking lot, making reservations online and a diminished apres ski availability that — face it, folks — is a strong reason why we ski.
WHAT’S AHEAD FOR NEXT YEAR?
Well, already Vail Resorts is making a big splash with the recent announcement that it is dropping prices on its popular Epic Pass program by 20% next year. There are ways to mix and match according to your ski plans, but one version that should be popular is the Northeast Value Pass that gives access to eight areas in our region including Okemo, Stowe, Mount Snow and Hunter for $479. Just a few years ago, a full pass for Stowe alone was more than $1,800.
The Epic Pass, along with the popular Ikon Pass and other multiple-area options like The INDY Pass and the Ski The Three pass for the three New York State areas, are riding a wave of popularity, in part because of the COVID-19 restrictions that were in place last winter. There were capacity restrictions at ski areas everywhere and being a season pass holder was one way of ensuring access to your area of choice on your dates of choice. Vail has already announced it won’t have a reservation system in place for next year, but buying tickets online from now on will be commonplace.
The days of walking up to a ticket window on arrival may be over.
One of the mysteries of the winter was “capacity,” in terms of how many people could be at an area on a given day before ticket sales were halted? Weekends and holidays were especially tight and skiers learned early that advance planning was essential if you wanted a place on the hill.
Capacity restrictions did improve the skier experience, some observers believe. It kept lift lines shorter and on-the-hill conditions less crowded. It was enough of a positive that Oak Mountain in Speculator is considering keeping a capacity limitation next year and Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin, near Denver, has already announced it will impose a 10% reduction in the maximum number of skiers it will host on a given day next year.
Will the combination of no mandated capacity limits and more people buying season passes create crowd problems on slopes?
Some are raising that concern already.
As an outdoor activity, skiing proved to be especially attractive to many this winter and the public turned out. While revenues for services such as rentals, lessons and food services were down, skier numbers remained solid and equipment sales were good, especially with people new to the sport and many who were coming back after years away.
DIFFICULT YEAR FOR TRAVEL
Travel had a difficult winter. Flying was difficult in some cases, impossible in others. Europe essentially closed its resorts. Canada did close its border, and trips from our area to the West faced quarantine issues both heading out and in coming home.
Area ski clubs did not run their long, popular bus trips this winter. Most difficult for many was crossing the state line to nearby areas in Vermont. A 14-day quarantine was required initially. That was modified later in the ski season, but, by then, people had either determined they were not going to go or that they would ignore the regulations.
Medium-size areas in our region benefited from some of the uncertainty. Oak Mountain in Speculator, Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake and West Mountain in Queensbury have all had solid winters, a combination of excellent conditions and hands-on local family ownership that many found especially appealing this winter. West deserves special mention for keeping its racing program active right up through last weekend.
Innovation helped, too. Catamount, on the New York-Massachusetts border outside Hillsdale, and Titus Mountain near Malone, built a series of slopeside cabanas that groups could rent for the day as their own family headquarters. Gore’s heated tent by the base lodge was an appealing alternative to gearing up in the parking lot.
While areas make plans for next year, capital improvements are still in the discussion stage. One place where activity is certain is in Lake Placid, as preparations for the 2023 World University Games continue. By the time the games are held that January, every sports venue in place for the 1980 Winter Olympics will have been upgraded to current international standards.
Next year, the Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in China in February. Most of the venue test events normally held a year before the games were postponed this year, rescheduled for this coming fall and early winter. That could affect regular World Cup schedules in most sports. Right now, no decision has been made to host Women’s World Cup Alpine races at Killington next November. That has been a very successful event in recent years before being canceled last fall. It has been the only World Cup Alpine event held in the Northeast.
Spring is generally a time for new beginnings. And, with what the past year has been like, that will be welcomed by all. The COVID-19 pandemic affected skiing like all else. There were changes everywhere.
But skiers have turned out to be a resilient bunch.
And next season is a new beginning.
80 FOR 80
Malta resident Barney Galinsky turned 80 last October, and decided that 80 days on the slopes would be his target this winter. He sees that in the rear-view mirror right now, having passed that total last week, just two years after knee replacement surgery.
And Galinsky isn’t just hopping down the bunny trails when he skies. Primarily a Gore skier, he’s good for the moguls, and the steeps, and the wooded glades when they are open. Galinsky retired from the construction business a couple of years ago and stays active as a member of the OC Ski Club.
Why does he do it?
“I don’t want to let the old guy in,” he said.
SIMSON BACK FROM WORLD JUDGING ASSIGNMENT
“Exhausting, but a great experience” is how Sarah Simson describes her assignment judging the World Freestyle Skiing championships, held recently in Kazakhstan.
Travel time was 28 hours each way. The Niskayuna resident was one of eight judges in the men’s and women’s competition in the Aerial and Mogul ski events. Next February, she is the U.S. designee for the freestyle events judging panel at the Winter Olympics scheduled for China.
Health issues are front and center in the minds of organizers, according to Simson, who tested negative eight times over the course of the recent championships. Is she confident the games will come off as scheduled?
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said recently, indicating that the dates of the games are already marked on her calendar.
ROGGE NAMED KAPLAN AWARD WINNER
Queensbury native Mike Rogge, whose efforts to resuscitate the iconic Mountain Gazette magazine were profiled in this column earlier this month, has been named the winner of the annual Mitch Kaplan Award by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.
The award recognizes an individual for bringing a special spirit and enthusiasm about snowsports to the public. It is named for the late Mitch Kaplan, a prominent New Jersey-based writer and snowsports advocate who died in 2010.
This is the final Ski Lines column of the season. Be safe and enjoy the next few months of bad sliding. Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].