Walk-up lift tickets have become a casualty of COVID-19, at least at Park City Mountain Resort and other Vail Resorts-owned properties.
PCMR announced Thursday it plans to open as per usual on Nov. 20. Yet that date and the ski area’s terrain will be about the only things that will be normal for guests this season. In an attempt to complete a full season during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vail Resorts has instituted several new regulations for its 34 North American ski areas, including PCMR in Utah.
PCMR is the first resort in Utah to announce its protocols for mitigating the virus this winter. Among the changes are:
A reservation system and a limit on daily lift tickets that will prioritize season-pass holders
A mask requirement in all parts of the resort, including in lift lines, on lifts and in gondolas
Chairlift restrictions that allow only guests who are skiing or riding together to board a lift. Some exceptions include: two singles on opposite ends of a four-person lift; two singles or two doubles on opposite ends of a six-person lift and two singles on opposite sides of a gondola cabin.
Lessons, rentals and dining options will still be offered, but some changes will be made to comply with best standards for preventing the spread of the virus.
“Given how fluid and ever-changing the situation with COVID-19 is, it has also been our goal to design an approach that can remain in place for all of this season,” Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said in an open letter. “We do not want to be caught off guard or find ourselves needing to make reactive changes.”
Perhaps most notable among the differences is that daily walk-up lift tickets will no longer be available. Instead, guests will be asked to purchase tickets online. That can be done day-of starting Dec. 8, provided the resort has not reached its capacity. Only pass holders will be allowed on the mountain from opening day through Dec. 7.
Skier limits are still being determined at PCMR, communications manager Jessica Miller said.
Reservations can be made up to seven days in advance and must be made by both pass holders and single-day ticket holders alike. At this time, reservations will not be required at partner resorts, such as Snowbasin near Ogden.
“For the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to. However, we are not planning for the majority of days, we are planning for every day of the season,” Katz said. “We want to provide assurance to our guests that we will do our very best to minimize crowds at all times — be it a holiday weekend or the unpredictable powder day. We believe this approach will help ensure a safe experience for everyone, while prioritizing access for our pass holders.”
Between Nov. 6 and Dec. 7, all Epic Pass holders — whether they have a three-day pass or season pass — will have the advantage of being able to reserve seven priority days for any time during the season. The days roll over, so once one passes, a skier can reserve another later in the season.
Epic Pass prices will increase on Sept. 17. Anyone who has already purchased a pass but has regrets can also get a full refund if the pass is returned by that date. In addition, this year each pass includes insurance against things like a resort shutdown, the loss of a job or pregnancy.
This past spring, ski resort towns were among the hardest hit by COVID-19. That included Park City. In late March, Summit County, where Park City is located, ranked in the top 10 in the nation in COVID-19 cases per capita. Still, Park City Mayor Andy Beerman said he’s excited about the upcoming ski season.
“So, we’ve been very nervous about this upcoming season, whether it was going to occur and what capacity it will be in. I’ll say we still remain very nervous and skeptical, but the fact that the resorts are feeling bullish and plan to open is a positive thing,” he said in a phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “And we feel like we’ve learned from their summer operations and they’ve watched the resorts in the southern hemisphere and figured out various methods that they think they can fairly safely open.
“And I think the approach they’re taking is cautious but smart. And, you know, we’re hopeful that it’ll work since most of the activity takes place outdoors.”
Beerman added that his community has learned a great deal about and gained great respect for the virus and the havoc it can wreak on a tourism-based economy since last March. Park City now has a mandatory mask ordinance and businesses have worked to reduce touch points and increase cleanings. The mayor said the town is nonetheless bracing for a weak economic year, including an anticipated 40% drop in sales tax revenue, but it could be worse.
“We’re learning as we go with this pandemic, and I’m sure there will probably be a few lessons we’ll learn this winter that we wish we’d been more prepared for,” Beerman said. “But we feel good at this point. We feel like we’re ready and we’re going to be nimble, and we’re really buoyed by the fact our resorts are opening.”
Deer Valley resort, also located in Park City, has set Dec. 5 as its opening date, conditions permitting.