A Vail Resorts mountain in Australia could offer preview of socially distanced Park City ski season
When the Park City Mountain Resort lifts start running later this year, how many people will be allowed on a chair or in a gondola?
How will the lift lines be managed?
And what about that midday lunch?
The start of the 2020-2021 ski season at PCMR is not scheduled for another three-plus months, followed shortly afterward by Deer Valley Resort, but it seems almost certain executives at both of the resorts are well into the planning for what will be the first ski season in the era of social distancing. There are skiers and snowboarders across the community awaiting the details as the end of the summer approaches, but there has been little to grasp onto with so many unknowns regarding the spread of the novel coronavirus through the fall and into the winter. The state of the sickness at the start of the winter will determine the strictness of any health orders that the mountain resorts would need to abide by for the ski season.
Other mountain resorts — those in the Southern Hemisphere — have opened for the winter there and are operating in a socially distanced manner, providing important information as their counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere ready for openings in November and December. The ski industry in North America has been awaiting the season in places like Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina in hopes of learning best practices for social distancing on the slopes, on the chairlifts and in the gondolas, in the restaurants and in lodging properties.
One of the resorts in the Southern Hemisphere, Perisher Ski Resort, in Australia, could be of special note to people in Park City as they wonder about the plans for the upcoming ski season. Perisher is a Vail Resorts property, the same Colorado firm that owns PCMR, and the executives at Vail Resorts are expected to closely monitor the successes and failures of the ski season at Perisher as they prepare for the winter in Park City and at the other resorts in North America under its umbrella.
Vail Resorts has offered limited information about the operational plans for the ski season in the Northern Hemisphere, but the firm has said the Southern Hemisphere’s winter will offer important guidance as the details are readied for North America. Rob Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts, in an earlier call with Wall Street analysts talked about the insight that would be gathered from the Southern Hemisphere. He pointed out the possibility of constraints on food and beverage services and the management of the network of lifts and gondolas.
With Perisher open, the details of the Vail Resorts blueprint for a socially distanced ski season, at least at that property, are known. The firm has drafted a broad plan designed to offer a skiing experience even as numerous steps are taken to attempt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus by protecting the skiers and the staffers at Perisher. It seems that many of the steps could easily be adopted at the North American properties like PCMR, meaning that the Perisher ski season blueprint could offer a detailed preview of what may transpire locally later in the year.
Perisher says the plans are designed for operations at approximately 50% of the usual capacity, following government guidelines regarding physical distancing. The upward of 50% of capacity could change should the guidelines allow. People who are not season-pass holders must purchase a lift ticket prior to the day they want to ski since same-day tickets are not available at the outset of the season.
“We are carefully managing the number of skiers and snowboarders able to enjoy the resort daily, based on the amount of terrain and lifts open,” Perisher says on its website.
It also says Perisher intends to open the resort “progressively” throughout the season, but some offerings like child care will not be available until it is safe.
Some of the key steps taken at Perisher include:
• people at Perisher must stay approximately 5 feet away from others.
• people who live together may ride lifts with each other while others must practice physical distancing on the lifts.
• one person is allowed on a chairlift designed for three people or on one that normally holds two people. Two people are allowed on chairlifts that are designed for four people. The Perisher information does not include a number for a six-passenger chairlift but says three people are allowed on an eight-person one. The lift lines will be redesigned for physical distancing.
• cash is not accepted.
• food and beverage services are available in a different fashion than before. The options and seating inside are limited, but the resort is providing more seating outside. “In most cases, food service will be limited to take-away, at least in the early season. Guests are encouraged to bring their own snacks and lunch to enjoy on the mountain,” Perisher says.
• lodging options like hotels, lodges and apartments are operating with reduced capacity “to ensure that physical distancing can be achieved in restaurants and common areas.”
A PCMR spokesperson said the resort will prioritize health and safety. The resort “will be adapting our protocols, procedures and offerings as required to ensure that we provide a safe and enjoyable experience to all our guests.” The statement from PCMR did not address the details of the operations in Perisher.
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Park City planning turnover is occurring amid the continuing discussions regarding a major development proposal at Park City Mountain Resort, meaning it is certain that some of the people who are expected to have a key role in a decision regarding the PCMR project will be newcomers to the long-running discussions.