Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen many resorts release their ‘operating policies’ for the upcoming season. From face-covering requirements and social distancing measures to ticket reservations, skier limits, and parking reservations, it’s fair to say that next season will be unlike any other.
But once the lifts start turning, what are skiers and riders expecting? How, if at all, will their behaviors change on the mountain this year? We endeavored to find out…
The results are in and the votes have been counted, in what is the only survey of its kind we’re aware of in North America. Out of 1,100 participants, this is what we learned…
SnowBrains Reader Survey – What affect will COVID-19 have on your winter 20/21 season?
At the very top level, almost all respondents to our survey, 98%, expect that COVID-19 will impact their season in some way or another. The small minority that doesn’t are backcountry skiers that don’t visit resorts. But even then, surely COVID will affect their season in some way? Whether that be gear shortages, parking issues, or more people in the backcountry to name a few reasons.
At what capacity will resorts operate? Only Wolf Creek, CO has quoted an exact figure of the capacity they expect to run at, 74%. Colorado resorts are hoping the Governor doesn’t enforce a 50% capacity limit, it would be economically hard for them to operate sustainably at that limit. A small number of resorts, RED Mountain Resort, BC for one, will not be limiting skiers at all, but most expect they will have to. Which makes sense. Not from a skiing or riding perspective, mountains are huge playgrounds where keeping your distancing is the norm. But pinch points, or areas where people congregate, need to be easily managed. I’m thinking lodges and liftlines. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY, and Sugar Bowl Resort, CA have both suspended season pass sales, for now, to help mitigate the need for reservations when they open.
That’s IF they open! 3% of our survey respondents don’t think resorts will open at all this season. At the other end of the scale, 11% think resorts will open at 100% capacity. But the vast majority of people are somewhere in the middle, with more than half of respondents thinking resorts will open at 50% capacity. And SnowBrains readers would be happy with that. 38% would be happy with 50% capacity, 24% at 75% capacity, and 27% would be happy at full capacity.
SKI DAYS & TRAVEL
People’s expectations for the number of days they’ll ski, compared to last year, don’t really change. Over 9% of respondents expect to ski more than 100 days this upcoming winter… way to go!
If we end up in a lockdown situation again as we did in March 2020, how will people respond? Turns out most of you will ski anyway, 67% saying they’ll ski ‘no matter what’, the only thing that would stop them is if the resorts close. This is why the backcountry could get busy…
Other reasons given for giving up on the ski season:
- lift wait times
- if reservations/lottery systems are implemented
- if a resort is not enforcing social distancing measures, especially on chairlifts and in lodges, or mandatory mask-wearing
- if I have COVID myself
- if employees test positive, or there is a spike in cases in the local community
- 4 people said it would take a zombie invasion for them not to ski…
Looks like there will be less travel this year, less than 18% of respondents said they will travel more next season, with 65% of people saying they will travel less or not at all.
With the uncertainty surrounding the season, consumers are being put off from making purchasing decisions. Over 26% of respondents will not be purchasing a season pass at all this season, a 41% increase over the previous year. Among respondents, Epic and Ikon passes made up 60% of all season pass purchases last season, but only 54% this year. Interestingly, Ikon Pass sales held consistent between the two seasons, yet Epic Pass sales fell almost 20% (among respondents). Single resort season pass sales, which last season made up roughly a third of all pass sales, dropped among respondents by 12%.
Last season only 12% of respondents purchased pass insurance, and this year more than twice as many people will, 26% of all respondents. This is interesting considering that almost all if not all, resorts or multi-resort passes are offering free assurances or guarantees that they will refund should anything happen to the season.
18% of respondents have already bought new gear in preparation for the upcoming season, and a further 29% intend to. Could this be backcountry gear for those anticipating heading into the backcountry to escape the resorts? 38% haven’t, because they don’t need anything, and interestingly, 3% of respondents would like to, but because of the pandemic, can’t afford to. 2% of respondents don’t see the point in buying any new gear because there won’t even be a season this year! Purchases will be split evenly between brick and mortar retail stores and online shopping.
79% of respondents are hoping to see resorts enforce mandatory face masks and social distancing measures, especially indoors. Although opinions are widely diverse, with some claiming they won’t go to a resort if they’re made to wear a mask, to others hoping harsh punishments are enforced for violators. 93% of people are prepared to voluntarily wear a face mask. Even those that don’t want to say that they will ‘if it means they can ski…! Below are a few of the polarizing comments left by survey respondents:
Will not attend if masks and distancing not enforced.
In the lodges it makes sense, but otherwise we’re outside and it’s cold so I’ll be covered anyhow.
And HARSH punishments for those who don’t abide.
Will not go if coerced to wear a mask.
If a resort does enforce a mandatory face-covering policy, 6% of respondents feel strongly enough that they would choose NOT to ski there. On the flip side, 54% said they would be more likely to ski there. The same split applies to resorts limiting indoor facilities. 8% of people will not ski at a resort limiting indoor facilities, whereas 30% are more likely to.
Interestingly, respondents are keen to avoid the larger resorts this season, with 55% saying that they are more likely to seek out the quiet and less crowded ‘smaller’ resorts, and avoid the potential inconveniences and COVID threat at the larger, busier resorts.
It looks like many will be seeking the solace of the backcountry next season, 53% of respondents will be more likely to ski in the backcountry this season. Worryingly, 61% of respondents have no avalanche training whatsoever. 8% of respondents are prepared to head into the backcountry without ANY avalanche training.
Survey Responses to:
Do You Have Avalanche Training?
The fact that so many unprepared riders are willing to enter the backcountry could be a real issue this upcoming season. Will SAR teams be overloaded this season as unprepared, inexperienced, and untrained skiers and riders escape to the backcountry? A selection of the responses with regards to avalanche training were:
‘on the list of ‘things to do’
‘no, but I’ve read a lot’
‘I always ski with guides’
‘my partner does’
‘will get training if i decide to go into backcountry’
‘I ski east coast, don’t need to’
‘No training, but I avoid high avy danger days’
Survey Responses to:
Any Other COVID Related Comments?
In a general “any other COVID related comments” people are generally stoked for the upcoming season, and as long as people are sensible and accept that this is how it has to be for a while, so long as we can ski, it’s ok.
Skiing and snowboarding is probably one of the safest things that you can do. People with multiple underlying conditions should stay away, but for the majority of people, I do not see an issue with full capacity.
Ski resorts should be at 100% capacity. Restaurants should be opened. And wearing a mask should be voluntary and not demanded. Corona is winding down so next year should be as normal as last year was.
How will anyone enforce mask wearing? You cannot make someone leave if they do not wear a mask. Will each ski area have police to enforce mask wearing? Skiing will close down quickly as people are idiots and will not keep masks properly on.
Reservation systems. This is why I have I not purchased a season pass. Reservations ruin the experience
I’m hoping resorts don’t just do online reservations and that’s it. There needs to be the powder chasing option! I leave northern Arizona on a whim to chase powder across the west and want to continue to have that option!
I hope people social distance and mask up. I think that’s the way to keep the resorts open.
Concerned about people increased traffic in the backcountry. This spring wasn’t too bad where I live but given how crowded trails have been this summer a little concerned it’ll continue
we are willing to do what is needed to still enjoy a skiing winter!
I will not be using indoor facilities.
People MUST COMPLY with mask and social distancing rules to protect others. It has NOTHING to do with personal freedom. Personal freedom ends when how you behave affects others.
It’s an outdoor sport, there are no concerns. We need to keep our bodies active
Skiing is an assumed-risk sport and should be treated as such. Resorts should open fully and let their customers and the market dictate what restrictions people are comfortable with.
I think the decision makers need to be careful not to kill off the whole skiing experience with illogical restrictions, just so they appear to be doing something or being proactive. Most healthy people with a functioning immune system shouldn’t be afraid of this virus and the only way to beat it is via herd immunity…… so we need to be allowed to get out there
Limits on backcountry trailhead volumes and inreased funding for SAR providers. Sustained media messaging to ski tourers to reduce avalanche risk exposure well below normal personal levels to minimize demand on rescue resources.
It will be interesting to see how local avalanche centers address the upcoming winter, in light of (i) likely more people in the backcountry and (ii) higher rescue risk (i.e., potentially infecting a rescuer). On one hand and with respect to (i), they will be all the more motivated to get as much quality information as possible out to the public, but on the other hand and with respect to (ii), they won’t want to be promoting an activity that could put rescuers at risk.