If you are considering a season pass to Northstar California, Heavenly and Kirkwood ski resorts, what can you expect next season?
Vail Resorts, which operates the three resorts in Lake Tahoe, recently offered some insight into the 2021 ski season, the first in the era of physical distancing. Vail Resorts addressed how things will likely change for skiers and snowboarders to guard against the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).
The response from Vail Resorts were made nearly three months after the 2019-2020 ski season abruptly ended in mid-March. The impact of the early closure of the Tahoe resorts rocked the economy.
In a recent call with Wall Street analyst, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz discussed the 2020-2021 ski season that’s scheduled to start in November, dependent on weather conditions and Covid-19 restrictions.
The Vail Resorts properties in Australia, including Perisher, will give the company some guidance for its North America resorts since the Southern Hemisphere ski season is set to start soon. Operations at Perisher remain a work in progress.
“At this point they’ll certainly be a limitation on the total capacity of the resort, to ensure that we protect social distancing,” Katz said. “Vail Resorts is very confident that we can provide a terrific experience for people who come to our resorts. That will give us some very unique insight that we’ll be able to use as we plan the North American ski season next year.”
Skiers and snowboarders will be able to spread out once on the slopes, easily adhering to physical distancing. Katz says the “pinch points” are the issue – inside restaurants, lift lines, entering the resort. Vail Resorts is working on a plan to best maintain physical distancing while still giving people a great experience.
“I think the two places that we’re certainly well aware of potential capacity constraints is on loading lifts and gondolas and to the extent that you’re maintaining social distancing between unrelated groups,” Katz said. “That could limit the number of people you can put on a chair or on a gondola at any one time. And that’s certainly something that will likely be a part of the plan in Australia.”
Vail Resorts understands there could be a drop in the number of skiers and snowboarder visits, but the company says it will open terrain as it would any other year, unless there are mandated reasons.
“We are not going to pull back at all on what guests would expect when they come to one of our resorts,” Katz said. “It’s incumbent upon us to keep our mountains open when we can, based on weather conditions and obviously restrictions from COVID-type things. We want people who come to get the full experience. And that’s something we are going to do for next year.”
Vail Resorts continued to operate with all the slopes open during the recession more than a decade ago, even as skier and snowboarder numbers dropped. Katz said a larger drop could occur in the upcoming ski season than during the earlier recession.
“If you look back to like the 2008-9 recession, we maintained full terrain, full resorts open, even though we had lower demand,” Katz said. “Now it’s possible that with COVID-19 we could see even lower demand. But we think we can absolutely still be profitable once we get into the season.”