Snowbird • For 40 years, Stephen and Gayle Halversen of Paragoonah have spent a week with their kids, and later their grandchildren, at their timeshare in Snowbird’s Iron Blosam Lodge. This year, they expected to have to scuttle their plans after receiving a letter telling them the coronavirus would keep the resort closed for the foreseeable future.
Then, just last week, they got what their daughter called “a miracle”: a message from the resort alerting them that it would be opening its summer operations in mid-June, just in time for their annual family getaway.
It’s been a quiet three months in the mountains since COVID-19 caused Utah’s ski resorts to shut down their lifts and cordon off their restaurants in mid-March. Now those wilderness areas are beginning to show signs of life. Sundance re-opened May 15, about two weeks later than usual. Snowbird and Woodward Park then joined in last week to become some of the first resorts in the state to open their summer operations. Most of the rest — but not all — plan to welcome guests within the next two weeks.
“We’re definitely seeing that slow return to what normal looks like for us in the summer,” Snowbird spokesperson Brian Brown said. “As temperatures increase and it gets into triple digits in the valley, I think we’ll see more people come up at that time. We definitely have a goal to open up more outlets and more summer activities.”
Currently, all three open resorts offer lift-accessed mountain biking and dine-in restaurants. Woodward Park City, which opened for some indoor sports on May 22, now is also allowing indoor trampolines and parkour and will open its rental shop. Sundance broke out its zip lines, stable, spa and lodging. Utah Olympic Park, though technically not a resort, opened June 4 with tubing and an alpine slide.
Snowbird actually opened a week earlier than it would in a typical year. Yet while it looks more like normal, Brown acknowledged summer operations this season are anything but. Workers sanitize the mountain coaster and alpine track sleds after every ride and riders are restricted to two-hour windows, rather than purchasing a ride at a time.
Perhaps most noticeable, the aerial tram to Hidden Peak, which has a capacity of about 100 people, will be limited to 25 passengers. Plus, all tram riders will be required to wear masks.
Those restrictions didn’t deter the Pratts family of Holladay. They brought their relatives from Carlsbad, Calif., up to the resort Thursday just as they have numerous times over the years. Only this time, there were fewer people and they didn’t have to wait in any lines.
“We know what we’re getting when we come here,” Susan Pratts said from under a mask. “And it’s just enjoyable.”
Others apparently share that sentiment. Sundance spokesperson Blain Wilkey said the flow of visitors “has been just right so far. The resort is open daily, but visitors must make reservations on the weekends.
“We’ve had good amounts of business,” he added. “It’s not where it was, but it really can’t be where it was, just because we’re running restaurants at minimum capacity.”
Summer has become an increasingly important season for resorts across the country, even before COVID-19 hit. According to the publication Ski Resort Management, revenue for resorts in the summer of 2016 was nearly twice what it was in 2007. During that time, the number of summer visitors rose nearly 45% , even as the cost of a summer visit went up nearly 30%.
This year, however, a successful summer could be critical to a resort’s survival. Consider that most ski areas this year closed prior to spring break, one of their three most lucrative times in the winter season. Skier and snowboarder visits were down 14% from last season nationwide and the industry lost an estimated $2 billion, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Ski Areas Association. Taken as a whole, the report said, the virus “derailed what could have been a top four season.”
But that might not be the worst of it. Uncertainty exists over whether ski areas will be allowed to open this winter and what their operations will look like if they do.
In an interview with Wall Street analysts earlier this month, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said he expects to have to limit capacity at the company’s properties — which includes Park City Mountain Resort — to comply with social-distancing restrictions. Travel restrictions may also lead to fewer skier and snowboarder visits, said Katz, one of the first major players in the ski resort industry to speak about the upcoming winter season. Still, Katz said his resorts will open their terrains as they normally would this winter, if possible.
Snowbird also is scheduled to open as usual this winter, Brown said. What the operations will look like when that time comes, he couldn’t say.
“The plan is to open in the winter in a way people recognize,” he said. He added that, as with the summer operations, guest and employee safety will be the foremost concern.
Those concerns have kept some resorts from jumping into the pool this summer. Solitude Mountain Resort, for example, has made some lodging available but otherwise has announced no plans to reopen.
“We are continuing to evaluate whether, when, and how to open to the public for summer operations under the current circumstances,” spokesperson Sara Huey wrote in an email. “As of now, dining, retail, disc golf, and lift service are suspended.”
The Halversens said concern for their safety has kept them from their tradition of riding the Snowbird tram up to mid-mountain, but it’s not COVID-19 related. They said they’re just getting too old to slide down the snowpack like they once did. Instead, they spent Thursday with their daughter Nisha and her four children, ages 2 to 8, spying on moose and playing near the fish pond just down the footpath from the Iron Blosam.
“We’re not worried about it,” Stephen Halversen said of the virus. “We’re just happy to be here.”
SUMMER IS IN SESSION
A rundown of what area ski resorts are offering — or not offering — this summer:
Alta • Access to more than 13 miles of hiking trails will open on June 27; lodging expected to open July 1; Albion Basin campground opens July 17.
Beaver Mountain • Hiking and OHV trails open; camping for RVs only.
Brian Head Resort • Activities (disc golf, the zip line, archery, bungee trampoline, climbing wall, avalanche tubing and mountain biking) open Friday through Sunday starting June 26.
Brighton • Hiking trails to open after snowpack melts; Brighton Store is open.
Cherry Peak • All summer operations and concerts postponed.
Deer Valley • Lift-served biking, hiking, scenic rides and some restaurants open daily starting June 26.
Eagle Point • Self-accessed hiking and biking trails open; Canyonside Lodge opened Friday; Mountain Archery Festival scheduled for June 26-28.
Nordic Valley • Summer operations postponed.
Park City Mountain Resort • Alpine slide, mountain coaster, scenic lift rides, hiking and bike haul, and some restaurants scheduled to open Thursday-Sunday starting July 2.
Powder Mountain • Wolf Barn Short Track trail is open; other trails will open as snowpack melts.
Snowbasin Resort • Lift-served mountain biking, hiking and scenic rides via Needles Gondola, mini golf (limited to groups of six or fewer), and dining and mountaintop yoga at the Needles Lodge scheduled to open Saturdays and Sundays starting June 27.
Snowbird • Open daily for summer activities (aerial tram, alpine slide, mountain coaster and Chickadee chairlift), with some restaurants and lodging. Mountain biking off the tram on the Big Mountain Trail remains closed.
Solitude • Summer operations postponed.
Sundance • Open daily for summer activities (chairlift rides, hiking, mountain biking, zip line and stables), with some restaurants, lodging and the spa also open. Reservations required Friday through Sunday.
Utah Olympic Park • Open daily for alpine slide, extreme tubing, zip lining and ropes course in two-hour increments. Alf Engen Ski Museum and Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum open and free, but masks are required.
Woodward Park City • Indoor and outdoor parks for wheeled sports, including scooter, skateboarding and BMX, and lift-served mountain biking open daily for a limited number of guests. Trampolines, parkour, gym floor and indoor airbags along with rental shop and food service also available.
Source: Ski Utah