This year guests at Vail Resorts properties in New Hampshire -- including Mount Sunapee in Newbury -- might find they have more space on the mountain, as ticket sales are limited to promote social distancing.
Amid all the chaos and uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, Vail Resorts, which operates four ski areas in New Hampshire, has a message of hope for those who want to escape their stress by hitting the slopes.
“There will be winter; there will be a ski season; there will be a full season start to finish,” said Bonnie Macpherson, northeast communications manager for Vail Resorts. The company operates Mount Sunapee Mountain Resort in Newbury, Wildcat Mountain in Gorham, Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett and Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington.
Last year, ski season in New Hampshire was cut short when the resorts closed in mid-March at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, Vail Resorts has been working to devise policies to ensure that ski season can continue as normal during the 2020-2021 season. The company had the benefit of time as the slopes closed during the summer months. Vail Resorts could also learn from the three ski areas that it operates in Australia, where the winter has just finished.
The biggest change at New Hampshire resorts will be a new reservation system. To try to allow for social distancing on ski lifts, ski areas will be operating at reduced capacity. Macpherson didn’t have the exact numbers, but she said that reduced capacity will offer a top-notch experience for skiers who are on the mountain, with shorter wait time and better conditions.
“The on-snow experience should be awesome because we’re going to have these limited numbers,” she said.
Skiers will be able to make reservations up to seven days in advance. Season pass holders will have exclusive access to early-season snow, with reservations for single-day tickets opening on Dec. 8. Season pass holders will also have 7 “floating” reservation days, that they can use to book skiing at any point in the season.
“If they always come skiing with their families during the holiday week, they can reserve pre-season at those dates,” Macpherson said. After the dates have passed, season ticket holders can reuse the floating reservation days to book again.
Despite the meticulous planning, some things are out of the company’s control. When Australia closed down borders between states, two or the three Vail Resorts properties there closed for the season. If something similar were to happen in New Hampshire, season pass holders would be refunded, Macpherson said. Passholders received a credit after the early closure last year.
Macpherson said that some changes made pre-COVID have been beneficial during the pandemic. For example, Vail Resorts launched the Northeast Value Pass last year. The pass retails for $599 for an adult and offers access to Vail’s Northeast resorts, as well as all the perks of being a season pass holder, like early access to the slopes. It’s significantly cheaper than the Epic Pass, which gives access to all 34 North American Vail Resorts for $979 per season. That savings is particularly appealing during a season when many people won’t be traveling far from home.
The northeast resorts have the advantage of being within driving-distance of major metropolitan areas like Boston. People who aren’t comfortable staying away from home can easily make the day trip, Macpherson said.
“There’s always a silver lining and we’re taking full advantage of that silver lining here in the Northeast,” she said.
In addition to the reservation system, there will be a myriad of smaller changes in place at the mountains, including mandatory face covers and more grab-and-go dining options. But Macpherson emphasized that all restaurants will be open and that there will be the same priority on providing a world-class ski experience.
“We’re fully committed to snowmaking and staffing,” she said. “This won’t be a limited version of skiing.”
Some at Vail Resorts were nervous that the company’s gung-ho approach to a full season wouldn’t be received well, but the response has been positive, Macpherson said.
“We were cautious, and concerned there would be a lot of negativity in response. We found that people were much more positive. They’re seeing it as ‘there will be a ski season — hallelujah,’” she said. “We’re hoping that will translate into good business levels.”
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