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Ski areas prep for a COVID-influenced winter

Skiers and snowboarders are already looking ahead to the ski season. Season passes at Ski Santa Fe sold out in just nine hours. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

As the weather starts to cool and trees shed their leaves, it not only signals the start of winter, but also the beginning of the ski and snowboarding season.

But this season is set to look a little different as the threat of COVID-19 still looms. Not only did the pandemic disrupt the tail end of last year’s season, but also it is set to limit the upcoming season.

Ski and snowboarding resorts following New Mexico’s COVID-safe practices will operate at a 25% capacity. In addition, most resorts are rapidly increasing their outdoor seating areas and lift ticket systems.

For Ski Santa Fe, that meant completely redoing their season passes. Instead of their traditional options, the resort created a new One Pass and the 2,900 passes sold out in just nine hours, General Manager Ben Abruzzo said.

“We’re going to have to monitor and limit the number of skiers every day,” he said.

The One Pass was sold at a discounted rate, but also requires pass holders to “activate” their pass for a small fee on the day they want to ski. This allows the resort to track and limit people on the mountain.

But for those who crave powder, it’s challenging to find tickets and passes.

Harvey Monroe, a board member for the Santa Fe Ski Team, said the team’s biggest concern is mountain access.

His other concern is traveling to out-of-state races. He said that, with the current travel restrictions, he’s not sure what those races will look like.

Monroe said the team usually uses the Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort in Vadito, and has been in touch with them to try to gain weekend access. It will probably just take more planning than in prior years, he said.

But the team is excited about the upcoming season and demand hasn’t dwindled due to the virus.

“Most people are not too concerned since we’re outdoor sport,” he said. “Very seldom are people close together, so it’s not too much of an issue and everyone usually wears a face mask, anyway, when it’s cold.”

Taos Ski Valley CEO David Norden said his resort is following similar guidelines, as well as the 25% capacity limits. But the limits aren’t hindering ski season pass demand.

When Taos opened up its season pass for purchase on Oct. 8, Norden said, it was the best single sales day Taos ever had. While the resort is limiting the passes sold, it hasn’t hit that limit yet.

“The biggest difference will be limiting visitation and trying to reduce visitation on those peak-day holidays so that we can avoid crowding and some form of a super-spreader event,” he said.

Skiers and snowboarders are permitted to ride the ski lifts only with other household members or traveling companions, Norden said.

At Ski Santa Fe, the resort also has markers for skiers and snowboarders every six feet, and a ghost lane separate from lift lines, Abruzzo said.

In addition to limiting tickets and passes, Norden said Taos Ski Valley is having a valet service for its lockers to avoid crowding. The resort also bought tents, heaters and other equipment to expand its outdoor seating options.

For those having trouble finding lift tickets, there is another option – cross-country skiing.

Peter Marks, vice president of New Mexico Cross Country Ski, said cross-country skiing isn’t dependent on ski lifts or resorts.

When someone is cross-country skiing, they are sometimes only within sight of each other. It could be dangerous to get closer in case a skier loses control, Marks said. In addition, most people wear face coverings to ward off the cold.

Cross-country skiing is naturally more solitary than the hustle and bustle of resorts, and Marks said he’s anticipating more people being drawn to the sport if they can’t do downhill skiing like they normally would.

“Since the virus started, there’s been a greater interest in getting outdoors just because of the solitude and cross-country skiing fits into that perfectly,” he said.



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