SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — On a recent sunny afternoon at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park, workers were busy making final preparations for the upcoming ski season by scraping snow and ice off equipment and testing machinery.
Over the summer, the state park saw a 40% increase in visitors, and General Manager Jim van Löben Sels doesn’t expect that demand to decrease this winter.
The big challenge this season will be managing that demand with COVID-19 restrictions.
Jordan Elliot, the President of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas’ Association, said that last season resorts in Washington, Oregon and Alaska lost roughly $87 million in revenue when the pandemic forced resorts to end the season early. That's why van Löben Sels is eager for opening day at Mt. Spokane.
“So, ski season for COVID-19 is really business as usual on the ski slopes, but where we’re going to see a difference is just in the indoor activity here at Mt. Spokane, though we are going to take the safe approach,” van Löben Sels said. “We’re really looking at our skier volume and dropping that to around 80%.”
Following new restrictions on indoor dining announced Sunday by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, van Löben Sels said they will no longer seat people in their lodge. Instead, he’s urging people to be prepared to eat outside or in their car.
In terms of reducing capacity on the mountain itself, van Löben Sels said they plan to accomplish that by moving their day-of lift tickets to a reservation system.
Skiers and snowboarders will need to purchase their day-of lift ticket online before heading up to the mountain. Guests will then present their confirmation to a cashier and will be issued a lift ticket.
Season pass holders will not be impacted by the new system.
“So, a little bit of a cultural shift, but I think it will just help us manage the mountain and make it safe from the skier volumes stand point,” van Löben Sels said.
While capacity on the mountain will be reduced, van Löben Sels said the mountain will expand operations during the core part of the season.
”The exciting part this year for those who have been season pass holders in the past is that we will be going seven days a week from December 18th to February 28th, and we add 14 additional days in January and February where we are going seven days a week.”
Guests will be also be asked to wear a mask in lift lines. People who decline to wear a mask will be asked to ride the lift alone.
Meanwhile, about two hours northwest of Mt. Spokane, preparations are also underway at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
Schweitzer Marketing Manager Dig Chrismer said the resort is also moving to a reservation system for day-of lift tickets. She urged people to make their reservations early before days are sold out.
Like Mt. Spokane, season pass holders will not be impacted by the change.
Masks will be required while indoors, and capacity will be reduced in accordance with Idaho’s COVID guidelines.
As of Monday, the state was under Modified Stage 2 of the state’s Rebound plan. In-person dining is still allowed under the plan, although patrons must be seated when not using the bathroom or entering or leaving.
”Do what you need to do. Get in, get out. We do have capacity restrictions with the number of people who can be in the rental shop and ski-and-ride center, so there may be a time where if there’s a lot of people, we may ask you to wait outside, so bundle up,” Chrismer said.
The resort is encouraging patrons to think of their car as their locker and a place to eat lunch.
Speaking of food options, Chrismer said that Schweitzer has contracted with three separate food trucks that will park in the Gateway Parking Lot to provide patrons with outdoor food options.
Expect lift lines to be spaced out, Chrismer said. Masks will also be encouraged in the lines, and patrons will be asked to stay with their family or the group they came with.
The bottom line is to be prepared to be outside as much as possible, and if you’re not a season pass holder, reserve your lift tickets early.
Both van Löben Sels and Chrismer are hopeful they’ll be able to remain open for the entirety of the season, and said they’ll adapt to potential changes rolled out by their respective states.
”It’s been a crazy year and so many things are going on in everyone’s lives. The anxiety is high for a variety of reasons, so whatever we can do at Schweitzer to help mitigate that and bring us back to that normal is awesome,” Chrismer said.