Today, August 12th, 2020, I had a chance to chat with Kevin Jordan of Aspen Skiing Co. about the upcoming 2020-2021 ski season. Kevin is the Senior Coordinator for Snowmass Children’s (7-17) Ski School. He plays a similar role in the summer overseeing the bike school.
Kevin and I met at the base of the Snowmass Gondola with our bikes in tow, rode up separately (social distancing always!), and found a nice shady spot to chat about the upcoming season.
We jumped right into it and started with how things are going so far in the summer bike season. The thing that surprised Kevin the most was how many people are here this summer compared to summers past. Kevin’s team of bike coaches at Snowmass has grown by nearly 25% to accommodate the influx of riders. In summer 2019, the maximum number of private bike classes they had was 10. This year has doubled that record to 20. Group bike classes have grown from 1-2 per day last summer to 3-4 groups of 4 riders per class this summer.
Despite the sheer amount of riders, Snowmass has done a great job of managing capacity. Every single Gondola car can hold 1 rider and their bike, meaning the throughput of the Gondola is plenty, even while maintaining socially distancing. The Elk Camp Chairlift, which also runs during the summer, also has plenty of capacity and allows riders to socially distance, with one person sitting at each end of the chair.
However, despite summer being Aspen/Snowmass’ second busiest season, the number of tourists here is dwarfed by ski season, which lasts from December through April. The capacity that allows Snowmass to operate during the summer allowing social distancing might just not be possible with the number of people that Aspen/Snowmass usually sees during the winter. It’s still unclear whether winter here will follow the same pattern as the summer, an above-average amount of people, but if it does, Snowmass and other resorts may be crushed by the number of people as well as following social distance guidelines.
Another big concern that Kevin has about the upcoming ski season everywhere is on-mountain dining. Many restaurants on Snowmass among other resorts will likely significantly reduce the capacity of indoor spaces. This means that restaurants will have to add much more outdoor space to accommodate hungry skiers, but that also raises the question of what if there is bad weather? With little indoor space to shield diners from the elements, bad weather may mean no on-mountain lunch for many. That being said, the dining situation will likely see many skiers pack lunches for on the go eating, or even ski back to their house/condo to eat lunch there.
Kevin’s domain at Snowmass is really all about ski and bike schools, and he was able to tell me a lot about those. Kevin said that both private and public bike lessons are screened before the day. They are asked if they’ve had any known exposure, had any symptoms, etc, and they also have their temperature recorded. Kevin says this is something that they hope to continue doing for the winter ski season. He also said that lesson group sizes may be cut down to just 5 people. Kevin says that there may be a shift from ski school group lessons to more private lessons. He thinks that parents will want to have control over who is in the class, which is not possible with group lessons.
Another interesting thing that Kevin talked about was potentially moving ski school registration online. Before COVID shut down the resort back in March, you had to walk up to the base village, and onto the snow before checking into a class, where you would be put in a class ranging from 1-9 based on skill level. Moving the system online would allow Snowmass to know exactly how many instructors they need to maintain 5 kids per class.
Kevin had a great quote today, “that change is an opportunity.” There may not be a set procedure going into the season, and things are going to be figured out and adjusted along the way. However, Kevin thinks many of the changes made to accommodate COVID guidelines are an opportunity to streamline some processes and make the resort experience better as a whole.
At the end of the day, no one really knows what next season will look like. There is no indication of whether cases will go down or up, vaccine or no vaccine, etc. This unpredictability is likely why many resorts are holding out from announcing a procedure set in stone for the upcoming season. Kevin really made me happy to know that resorts are prioritizing safety over anything else, and I hope that Aspen/Snowmass will continue to lead the way and other resorts follow the lead.