Skiing strategies: Idaho resorts setting season with COVID-19 restrictions

While social distancing and other health and safety precautions are being practiced, Brundage Mountain’s current plan is to not limit access to skiing and riding and to not require reservations.

Southern Idaho

As the end of the 2019-20 ski season ended with an abrupt door slam courtesy of COVID-19, some wondered if there would even be a ski season for 2020-21.

Wonder no more.

You can get your skis waxed, snowboards tuned up and, once the snow flies, head for the hill — whichever one you want.

Idaho ski resorts have announced they will be open for business this year, pandemic be damned.

Rest assured, resorts are opening with health and safety top of mind. They do not deny the coronavirus but rather, the mandates, restrictions and precautions they’ve put in place are meant to defy the pandemic and to give downhill thrill-seekers a safe way to enjoy the great Idaho outdoors.

Here’s what you can expect at three ski hills in the southern half of the state.

BRUNDAGE MOUNTAIN

Brundage Mountain General Manager Ken Rider announced the resort’s preliminary operating plan in a letter to guests last week, outlining the resort’s priorities and key operational changes.

“This winter will look different because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but our plan is to do everything we can to be able to operate the entire season and deliver a great and safe experience on ‘The Best Snow in Idaho,’” said Rider. “Our focus and No. 1 priority is and will continue to be the health and safety of our employees, guests, and communities.”

At this point, Brundage Mountain’s plan is to not limit access to skiing and riding and to not require reservations.

If it becomes necessary to limit capacity at some point due to CDC or local health district guidance, Brundage Mountain’s goal would be to require advance sales and reservations on daily ticket products, but not for season passholders or Select Card holders.

Here are the basics:

Parking — Parking attendants will be on staff on busy days. Many new parking rules and regulations were implemented last year and will be diligently enforced.

Shuttles — The in-resort parking lot shuttle connecting the Main Lot to the Centennial Lot will continue to operate on weekends and holidays. Face coverings will be required. The local Brundage Express Shuttle from McCall has been upgraded in partnership with the City of McCall and Mountain Community Transit to a brand new 33-passenger 2020 Ford Aerolite shuttle. This service will continue to be offered for free and face coverings will be required.

Season passes, Select Cards and Tickets — All season pass products and Select Cards will be printed and available at the On-Mountain Guest Service location.

New this year: All Select cards will provide direct-to-lift access. Select Card holders no longer need to stand in a ticket line to redeem a ticket, so these will work very similar to a season pass but without any of the season pass benefits. Additionally, Brundage lift operators will be scanning all guests on Bluebird, Centennial and Bear lifts, so guests should have passes, cards and tickets accessible each time they load the lift.

Lift operations will also have changes:

Main lifts will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

The Centennial Triple will operate seven days a week beginning mid-December until end of March to better disperse crowds every day.

Lift attendants will be instructed to load different groups of people together but will accommodate those who would prefer to ride as individuals or couples without sharing a chair with someone they don’t know. Skiers are urged to be patient as attendants streamline the process.

Face coverings will be required in lift lines and lift loading areas as well as where people can’t physically distance.

Lodge facilities

Face coverings will be required to enter all lodge facilities. Guests will not be allowed to leave personal belongings in the lodge. However, Brundage has added 150 day lockers accessed through a credit card pay station available on the west side breezeway on the first floor of the lodge. Several sizes will be available and overnight storage is an option.

Food and beverage operations

All food and beverage outlets will be open. However, each location will offer ‘Grab and Go’ or a quick dine-in option with very limited seating. Face coverings will be required to enter all facilities and should be worn until guests are seated and ready to eat.

There will be no outside food and beverage allowed within any facilities at any time.

Guests will not be allowed to ‘hang out’ inside for extended periods of time or bring any personal belongings into the lodge. No exceptions.

Additional seating will be added to outdoor locations around the lodge and at the Bear’s Den to provide more options for outdoor seating.

Guest Wi-Fi will not be available inside the lodge. Wi-Fi will be redirected to outdoor areas on the Plaza Level outside of Guest Services and the Easy Street ticket booth.

Ski & Ride school

The Ski & Ride school will offer private lessons only. Individuals or family members in a combined private lesson will meet their instructors on the snow. Kids Club and Day Care will not be offered.

Retail and rental

Face coverings will be required to enter the facilities. Those planning to rent gear are highly encouraged to make advance reservations, especially during traditionally busy times.

Snowcat Adventures, Snowmobile Tours & Rentals and Activity Barn Snow Tubing: Brundage does plan to offer these amenities, with detailed plans forthcoming.

Overnight RV Camping

Overnight camping will be allowed in designated areas with registration via Guest Services. Overnight camping will not be allowed during holiday periods. The Holiday blackout days include: Dec. 26-31; Jan 16-18 and Feb 13-15.

Events

At this time Brundage Mountain is not planning on hosting any major events that tend to draw large crowds, such as Pray for Snow, Light up the Night or Beer & Gear.

“Our indoor operations will be significantly different,” said Rider. “Please remember that we are doing this to ensure that we can all enjoy a full season of skiing, riding and enjoying the beautiful mountain environment that we all love so much.”

As the COVID-19 landscape changes, further adjustments may be needed. Check the website for updates: brundage.com.

TAMARACK

Opening day is set for Friday, Dec. 11 with plans to operate daily through Sunday, April 4, 2021, said a press release about the coming season.

What’s new

Boundless Passes and Express Cards can be purchased online and picked up at one of the pickup boxes located throughout the resort by scanning the QR purchase code. Then, you can go straight to the lift any time you come to the resort.

To ensure you can ski whenever you want, you are encouraged to purchase a pass early, as they may be limited. All Boundless passholders, Express Card holders, Indy Pass Holders and other resort exchanges will be guaranteed access to the lift every day this season. To ensure short lines and uncrowded slopes, traditional day passes may be constrained, especially on weekends and holidays.

Any guests booking lodging through Tamarack Resort Lodging Company with lodging/lift packages will be guaranteed access to the lifts.

Any member of the Idaho Hospital Association who is redeeming a voucher for a lift ticket will be guaranteed access to the lifts. Go to the website for details: tamarackidaho.com.

COVID-19 Refund Policy: Should the pandemic interrupt the season, Tamarack has developed policies for passholders. All 2019/2020 passholders (excluding 2020/2021 Boundless Passholders who purchased in February 2020) will receive one free day lift ticket during the 2020/2021 winter season ($100 value).

If Tamarack is unable to open or closes early as a result of a government mandated closure, all 2020-2021 Boundless Passholders will receive a rollover credit based on the date of the closure. Details can be found on the website.

Safety in indoor and outdoor spaces

Tamarack will limit capacity of indoor spaces in order to comply with Central District Health guidelines. In dining facilities, spaces will be reserved for guests that purchase food and drinks. Guests wishing to bring their own food will be encouraged to go “old school” and picnic at their vehicle or at one of our outdoor spaces and patios.

Face coverings will be required in all indoor spaces.

Guests will be able to ride chairlifts with others in their bubble, and those wishing to ride alone will be allowed to do so. Please be prepared for slightly longer lift line waits during weekends, holidays and peak hours.

Rental and sports school processes are still being determined, but expect a pre-purchase and booking process.

The Village is opening five new restaurants: Pizza, Summit Bowls, Tilted Taco, The Alpine Dinner, and a Mediterranean/Italian-inspired restaurant, The Reserve. Also new is the Mountain Bites food truck.

The dome formerly known as the Canoe Grill will remain as a non-restaurant for COVID purposes, and rental and retail areas will be expanded for social distancing.

Other safety features include: touchless ticket and pass pickup boxes, and touchless pay-as-you-go direct lift access.

For more details, FAQs, or to purchase a Boundless Pass and Express Card, visit tamarackidaho.com.

SUN VALLEY

Sun Valley is planning a traditional Thanksgiving Day Bald Mountain opening on Nov. 26, weather depending. Dollar Mountain will follow on Dec. 12.

With an emphasis on health and safety, President and General Manager Tim Silva posted a letter to the website. “The upcoming ski season may seem familiar in many ways and quite different in others,” he said. Due to COVID-19, facial coverings in public spaces and indoors as well as social distancing will be de rigueur.

Day tickets may be limited to keep from over crowding the mountain on high-volume days, but they are not planning on using a reservation system or limiting Sun Valley pass holders or Epic Pass holders because “we are fortunate to be somewhat off the beaten path.”

On-mountain lodges and dining

“We plan to operate all of our on-mountain lodges and dining facilities this winter, with a few added safety measures,” said Silva in the posted letter. Indoor seating will be reduced and additional outdoor dining options will be added as well as reservation systems for some venues and grab and go options “to assure appropriate distancing is maintained in our lodges.”

SnowSports lessons and guest services

Plan ahead and come ready to ski. And, “if you wish to store items at the base areas, we will offer secure and sanitized bag check facilities outside the lodges. Equipment rentals will be available through online reservations. Our children’s and adult SnowSports offerings will continue on Dollar and Bald Mountain with an emphasis on pre-arranged private and limited group instruction.”

Other health and safety features

According to the website, hand sanitizer dispensers, touch-less whenever possible, will be at key entrances and contact areas. Guests are required to hand sanitize upon entry.

In addition the website states, “guests are reminded not to touch their faces and to practice physical distancing by standing at least six feet away from others whenever possible. All resort properties and retail outlets comply with local or state-mandated occupancy limits.”

Additional cleaning protocols, including the use of eMist electrostatic disinfectant sprayers and more, as well as updates on the upcoming season are listed on the website at sunvalley.com.

Huff may be contacted at jhuff@idahopress.com.

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