As we all know, the ski season was sadly cut short when resorts were forced to shut down as the world was overwhelmed by the COVID19 pandemic in March. Since then, society has adapted to a new way of living until a vaccine for the virus is discovered. Now that three months have passed and most people have settled into a new form of reality, questions about how the world will run for 2020/21 have been on many people’s minds. Like all businesses, ski resorts are eager to reopen, both to have people back enjoying the outdoors and to help minimize the monetary losses from COVID19, which are estimated to be around $2 billion due to the early closure and expectations of reduced operations next season.
While there are still a few months until the Northern Hemisphere resorts start preparing for the 2020/21 season, resorts in the Southern Hemisphere have already started confronting the main risks in the spread of COVID19 and are leading the way to show us what the new world of skiing will look like. The freedom of resorts to reopen is closely tied to the current government restrictions in place; in Chile and Argentina none of the ski resorts, including Las Leñas, La Hoya, Catedral Alta Patagonia, and Portillo, have been allowed to open because their region is still under significant lockdown. Because the prime Southern ski season usually runs from June to September, most of these resorts have decided that they will not open for the entire season and they will instead be allowing 2020 season passes to be used in 2021. Some resorts, like Portillo and Valle Nevado, have planned for a later opening date, hoping that restrictions will soon be lifted, but it is unknown if this will happen before September.
In other countries that have coped better with COVID19, ski resorts have reopened for the season and are setting the example for what to expect when we finally get back on the slopes. Major resorts in Australia and New Zealand have been the first to prepare to reopen, but with significant restrictions to their operations. One of the most significant changes is that many resorts such as Perisher, Coronet Peak, Mt. Hudd, and the Remarkables, have limited their number of guests by only allowing season pass holders or resort members to ski; same-day tickets are not available. In addition and as expected, chairlifts and gondolas can only be shared by members of the same household, or if they are large enough to seat people 6ft apart. Of course, significant sanitization policies are also in place and food options are limited and often only available to takeout.
Many new technologies are being tested in an attempt to advance the reopening process, including thermal cameras being used to check people’s temperatures in Chamonix, France, an automated system to sanitize gondolas in between rides, and trackable lift passes used in New Zealand to trace possible exposure to the virus between guests. With resorts being forced to operate at 50% or even 25% capacity, it is likely that we will see even more new systems being used in the coming months in an attempt to safely allow more people back on the slopes for the 2020/21 season.
Almost all Northern Hemisphere resorts have not made any conclusive statements about the coming season, but many have affirmed that they are planning to open, even if they are forced to have a lower capacity and many restrictions in place. There are still lots of questions left to be answered, like how rental services will operate, what refunds will be available, and even if smaller resorts will be able to sustain the economic impact of COVID19, but like most other issues that have been on our minds lately, only time will tell how the world will adapt and overcome these immense challenges.
Do you plan to ski in 2020 and 2021? Or will a possible second wave in the fall destroy any hopes of the ski world recovering soon?