Update: The state of California released guidelines for ski resorts on Dec. 1. Among the guidelines, ski resorts must implement measures “requiring all customers to have a valid, pre-purchased lift ticket, season pass, or advanced reservation to receive access to the base areas and use the ski lift and/or gondola.” To read the guidelines, click here.
Original article: While ski resorts in California closed early last season due to COVID-19, this year the industry has had time to prepare.
Bear Valley Resort opened the day after Thanksgiving with more snow than usual and COVID-19 precautions in place.
“We’ve created a ton of snow,” Bear Valley Marketing Manager Justin Adams said on Nov. 24. “We have better coverage than we’ve had in at least eight years for opening weekend. We’re actually going to be running our express chairlift, the Mokelumne Express, on opening day, which hasn’t happened ever since it’s been there.”
The Cub chair also opened, along with the Cub and Panda carpets.
“When kids come out to the mountain they can jump on the carpet and get to learn some raw elements of how to ski and snowboard before they have to ride the lift,” Adams said. “The carpet’s a great way to get people started.”
The resort had been closed since mid-March, ceasing operations a few days before the stay-at-home order was issued and just before one of the biggest storms of the season.
“We were never forced to shut down, but we did it preemptively on our own accord because it just felt like that’s what needed to happen,” Adams said. “We were functionally the only resort open in the Sierra, so we decided to follow the industry.”
Over the past months, the resort has been putting together extensive safety precautions, working alongside Alpine County Public Health, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and organizations that represent the ski industry.
“We’ve put a lot of things in place to try and make it as safe as possible for everyone,” Adams said.
Face-coverings are required in all buildings, chairlift lines and while riding the chairlift. Physical distancing measures are in place both indoors and outdoors throughout the resort. Day lodges, locker rooms, rentals, retail stores, bathrooms and other indoor facilities have reduced capacities, and capacity on the chairlifts is also limited.
Sanitation measures are also in place throughout the resort, including frequent disinfecting of high touch-point areas and the installation of hand-sanitizer stations. Daily health and wellness checks are mandatory for all employees, and contact tracing is conducted daily for both guests and team members.
“Everyone going in the lodge is being contact-traced, which just means that you’ll have your name and phone number taken down,” Adams said. “We’re encouraging people not to go into the lodge if they don’t need to. We see people staying outside and in their pods as one of the main things we can do to encourage people to be safe.”
The lodge has controlled entry points, and indoor breaks are limited to 15 minutes. Employees will be stationed at the main entrances to provide information and directions. Food options in the main cafeteria are grab-and-go only, and outdoor food and beverage venues will be available.
In addition, lessons are smaller in size and must be booked in advance, gloves are required on the chairlifts, and guests are encouraged to use their vehicles as basecamps.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure a safe season, and the only way that can happen is if we do these things,” Adams said.
The formation of safety guidelines at California ski resorts has been slightly complicated by the fact that the state has not yet released guidelines that are specific to the industry.
“The state is working collaboratively with local health departments and ski industry leaders on guidance for ski operators on how they can operate with reduced risk,” an emailed response from CDPH reads. “Once guidance specific to ski operators is available, it will be posted online.”
In the absence of more specific guidelines, the industry has been going by the state’s guidelines for outdoor recreation. Organizations representing the ski industry have also played a big role in the formation of guidelines.
“There’s been a lot of good communication from a lot of the Southern Hemisphere resorts that have been dealing with (COVID-19) and ways to mitigate it,” Adams said. “There’s a bunch of great associations – different ski associations and resort groups – that have put together some pretty amazing guidelines.”
Alpine County Public Health has also been working with Bear Valley to ensure public safety.
“Our health officer has been in contact with CDPH regarding the guidance for ski areas and has offered assistance to them,” said Nichole Williamson, Alpine County’s administrative officer, health and human services director and public information officer. “Our public health department has been working with both resorts in the county.”
Williamson said that the county has confidence in Bear Valley’s operating plan.
“Our health officer has lived in ski areas – along with most of our staff in the health department – for many, many years, and has a really good understanding of ski resorts and the communities that they’re located in,” she said. “Both ski resorts have plans that we feel are very safe. We supported them in opening, and approved the plans that they submitted to us. … We feel that the actual skiing activity is a very low-risk activity.”
Although safety measures are in place, the public’s cooperation will be crucial, Adams said.
“This is something we’re all in together, and as much as we set up these protocols, it’s a community effort,” he said. “We’re really hoping that people will rest into the fact that we’re all having to slow down a little bit. We are just asking people to be patient and understanding.”
Bear Valley Resort will likely be open only on Saturdays and Sundays for the next two weekends, and plans on opening full-time in mid-December.
“Hopefully, it will be Dec. 14,” Adams said. “But that’s weather-dependent.”
For more information, visit bearvalley.com.