(Photo above: East Wall, A-Basin, May, 2020)
If I could’ve changed places with one person last week, it might’ve been Rachel Vecchitto. A long-time member of TheSkiDiva community, Rachel was lucky enough to ski at A-Basin when they re-opened after closing in mid-March for the pandemic. So that all of us might live vicariously through her experience — and get a taste for what it might be like to ski with coronavirus protocols in place — Rachel writes about it here:
Unusual Times, Unusual Measures
Skiing at A-Basin, June 1, 2020
by Rachel Vechitto
I’m a spring skiing fanatic. For the past 13 years, I’ve skied at A-Basin in May or later, even flying in from the east before moving to Colorado nine years ago. I love all things skiing, but there’s nothing like the sunshine, soft snow, mild temps, and prime beer-on-the-deck weather that spring skiing brings, so I was extremely disappointed when the coronavirus cut the season short in March. Sure, I realize that not being able to ski is small potatoes in the face of job loss, sickness, isolation, and all the other issues we’re grappling with right now (heck, I lost my job), but losing my absolute favorite pastime and primary de-stressing activity during this challenging time felt particularly devastating.
While A-Basin said they’d re-open as soon as regulations and common sense allowed, the odds seemed to get lower and lower as April turned into May. But then things began to change. Mt. Baldy (California) and Timberline (Oregon) successfully reopened with strict social distancing measures, and in late May the Colorado regulatory stars finally aligned and A-Basin was able to open from Wednesday, May 27th, through Sunday, June 7th, when the snow ran out. I may have actually cried when I realized there was a chance I’d get on the snow again.
I say “a chance” because A-Basin was limiting each day to 600 skiers via a reservation system. And getting a reservation wasn’t easy; the system crashed due to overwhelming demand within seconds of opening. A-Basin then replaced it with a lottery, holding a separate drawing for each ski day, and notifying the winners around midday the day before.
After several rejections (I tried a total of six times), I was lucky enough to score a reservation for Monday, June 1st. The lottery system itself was pretty sketchy; I know people who tried four times and got two reservations, and others who didn’t get a single reservation after trying twelve times. While these are all valid outcomes from a lottery system, it’s a good illustration of why it was so frustrating. Seeing people hit the jackpot twice when you have yet to ski once was pretty demoralizing. The last minute nature of the lottery was also challenging, as was the general lack of visibility into the process. Knowing, even roughly, how many people were entering, or having any visibility into the selection process at all would’ve made the whole process feel less like a black box.
At the mountain.
Once I arrived at A-Basin, the entire experience was quite smooth, although different from a normal ski day. Your reservation was checked before you were allowed to enter the parking lot, and cars were parked in approximately every other spot. After booting up in the car (lodges were closed, aside from restrooms), you headed to the main base area to have your pass scanned and reservation checked by a masked employee stationed behind a plastic divider, which was the only time your pass was scanned all day.
In addition to employees asking everyone to wear masks in the lift lines, there was an empty lane between each line and signs posted to help maintain six feet of distance from the person in front of you. Fixed grip chairs were running slightly slower than usual and there were signs asking you to bump your own chair, rather than having a lift attendant do it for you. You rode the lift alone or with the people you came with.
The skiing itself was incredibly enjoyable, and it was wonderful to get back on the snow during my absolute favorite time of year after an unplanned ten week break. While there was a good amount of terrain open and the skiing was legitimately good for June, my mood felt more like early season skiing, when I’m so happy to be on the snow that I’m grinning from ear to ear, no matter what the conditions. The mountain goats were out, people were skiing in costumes, and it was just fantastic to get a spring A-Basin day in the books.
The bottom line.
Overall, I have to say the experience was a bit odd. I normally spend about half of my ski days skiing alone, but between chatting with people on the chair, taking a run with someone else, or running into people at the bar, a “solo” ski day usually involves plenty of socializing. That wasn’t the case on this day, however, and the emptiness of the mountain combined with the solo lift rides definitely felt a little lonely. Taken together with the uncertainty of the lottery, it was a sobering glimpse into what skiing might look and feel like next season.
Despite all that, I couldn’t be happier that A-Basin reopened, and I think I’d feel that way even if I hadn’t been able to get a ski day in. It seems unavoidable that skiing is going to look at least a little bit different next season, and if this experiment helped A-Basin smooth out some rough edges and get a better idea of how to operate over the next few years so that we can all safely enjoy the sport we love, it’s hard to see much downside.