Skiing strategies: Idaho resorts set seasons in COVID-19 era

A skier enjoys fresh snow at Schweitzer Mountain near Sandpoint. Ski areas in the region are implementing precautions to help protect guests and staff from COVID-19 this winter.

Northern Idaho

The robust accumulation of mountain snow in today’s forecast surely has some skiers and snowboarders jonesing to hit the slopes.

All three of the daily ski resorts in northern Idaho plan to be up and running this winter, albeit with different looks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The arrival of the viral illness late last winter led to an early end to the season for ski areas across the country.

Lookout Pass was one of the last ski resorts to shut down, said General Manager Brian Bressel, and staff of the ski area on the Idaho/Montana state line east of Mullan honed its coronavirus safety measures last summer while operating the popular Hiawatha bicycle trail.

“We got a real feel for what we could do, what restrictions we had to deal with and what the public sentiment was. That is the big thing: keeping everybody safe as possible,” Bressel said.

He noted skiing is an outdoor activity where people often wear face coverings like neck gaiters. But they also congregate in places like ski lodges, in chairlift lines and on their chairs themselves.

Face coverings will be highly recommended but not required, he said, and capacity at the mountain could be limited, depending on the amount of terrain open at any given time.

“Right now it will be first come, first served for lift tickets, and season pass people are guaranteed a visit every day,” he said. “We will have to watch that, and if demand changes we may have to go to a reservation system to limit the volume.”

Bressel said the largest change for Lookout will be operating the lodge at 50 percent capacity.

“We encourage you to work out of your vehicle or RV insead encouraging you to come into our lodge,” he said.

The rental shop will adopt more vigorous cleaning regimens, and ski lessons will be taught in smaller groups or in groups of people who have traveled together.

Masks will be required at all indoor spaces, with an exception for dining areas, at Silver Mountain near Kellogg, and guests will be asked to wear masks in lift lines and the gondola, said Siobhan Ebel, marketing assistant.

The number of daily lift tickets sold could be restricted, depending on how much terrain is open, she said. During busy periods, such as weekends, people will be required to purchase lift tickets online.

People who wish to ride lifts together in groups they have traveled with will be accommodated.

“You can load with your traveling party, and we will probably have a seperate line for single riders,” she said.

The resort will post its COVID-19 safety measures in the coming days on its website.

At Schweitzer Mountain near Sandpoint, the region’s biggest ski area, masks will be required in lodges and other indoor spaces, and social distancing will be encouraged. The resort plans to implement contactless services whenever possible and will also look to limit the number of guests during busy periods so social distancing can be maintained. Schweitzer CEO Tom Chasse said season passess have been selling at a record pace, and during busy times, when capacity needs to be limited, season pass holders will be given priority over those who purchase day passes.

“Our methodology is driven by the percentage of (season) pass holders on any given day compared to the percentage of day lift tickets for that day,” Chasse said in comments posted on the resort’s website. “Once we feel comfortable that we can support the typical (season) pass holder visitation for a particular day, the remaining balance of our capacity will be pre-sold in advance through our e-commerce platform.”

All of the resorts plan to follow the recommendations of local health authorities as well as those recommended by industry groups. They also plan to adapt to changing conditions as needed and are asking their guests to come with open minds.

“Patience and flexibility,” said Bressel, of Lookout Pass. “Be patient with us and have flexibility, and we can all have a good experience.”

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

Recommended for you