Wide Open Spaces – How Will Social Distancing Work in Ski Resorts?

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A lot of ski resorts are stressing their wide-open spaces as an attraction for travelling in the pandemic – arguing that you’re likely to be further away from other people on the slopes than you are at home in a city, if you live in a city, in most cases.

The problem with that argument is whilst the mountains can indeed be spacious, there can be lots of places where skiers come together – arriving by plane, coach or bus; in chalet or hotel accommodation; in the rental shop; in the lift-queue and on the lift and in mountain restaurants, for example.

So lots of different ideas are in play at ski areas around the world to avoid these potential gatherings, besides the new normal basics of “social-distancing where possible” and mask wearing.

Using Tech To Direct People to Empty Slopes

Larger ski resorts introduced technology in recent years designed to help people find empty slopes and lifts without queues just to help make their day on the slopes as good as it could be. Now they’re realising that tech has new usefulness in coronavirus times.

Vail Resorts in the US were among the first to use anonymised tracking of ski passes on their Epic pass app so that holders could see where everyone was congregating and aim to go somewhere else.

In Europe La Plagne’s Yuge App has a similar function. I communicates with 28 sensors across the resort to let guests know the most / least crowded slopes and waiting times at different lifts, allowing skiers to plan their route around the mountain to avoid crowds – whether because of virus concerns, or to find empty slopes and no lift queue, or both.

We Only have Draglifts and Chairlifts Anyway

After decades of competition between top resorts around the world to upgrade old drag and chairlifts to gondolas, those resorts that couldn’t afford to do that have spotted they may have an advantage in a virus-pandemic season when cooping people up together inside a lift isn’t seem as as good as standing on a drag lift or sitting on a chair in the open air.

So we are seeing resorts beginning to make the point that they operate only, or mostly, chair and draglifts.  Those that don’t rely on most skiers boarding a gondola or cable car to ride the lifts at the start of the day are also keen to let people know that,

“Obertauern is a ski-in ski-out resort, so our guest’s don’t need to wait for a gondola to come, there are 26 lifts and 10 different stations from which to get on to the slopes directly in the village so it won’t get too crowdy anyway,” said the Austrian resort’s Lisa Walcher adding, “Despite that we offer a free buff/bandana with every ski pass sold.”

Closing the Slopes When the Weather Doesn’t Look Good

This idea was particularly popular at ski areas in South America during the 2020 season – ski areas would announce they would close the day before a snowstorm was due to blow in to avoid the danger of people congregating at the base whilst they awaited lifts to be dug out and slopes to be made avalanche safe. So far no European resorts have announced any similar plans but it does seem likely ski areas may be more proactive than usual in this area.

Limiting the Number of People on the Slopes

This technique was first used by ski areas in Norway and the USA in spring when they re-opened just as lockdown was first easing in late May. Skiers were required to book a pass online with the number available limited – typically to half the normal capacity.

As it was low season this did not cause a lot of issues in most cases but one resort, Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, had so much demand for their limited spaces they ended up selling tickets by lottery.  It also caused problems when implemented in Australia in the recently concluded 2020 season there with demand too high for the number of passes on sale.

Currently ski areas in North America say they’ll be limiting ticket sales and as a result season passes, which guarantee slope access, are seeing bumper sales. However in the Alps there are no reports so far of any plans to limit the numbers in the slopes beyond the usual safety limits.

Social Distancing Everywhere Except On The Lifts

Social distancing will be the norm in almost every situation in resort, much as it is at home, so long as everyone abides by the rules for our mutual benefit.

The only real pinch-point in the Alps looks to be when actually riding lifts like gondolas at peak times when resorts in the alps are so far saying they will run at capacity – just with windows open, frequent disinfecting, and everyone wearing masks.  They argue that it is the same as public transport almost everywhere.

If that might concern you though, the answer would appear to be doing one or more of the following three things, if you can:

  1. Travel low season
  2. Travel to a ski resorts with ‘outdoor’ lifts like chairlifts and drag lifts
  3. Avoid busy times of the day when you head up the slopes.

In North America ski resorts are operating social distancing on lifts too, allowing only a few people in a cabin if they are not already in the same ‘bubble’.


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