Skiing in the time of COVID-19 (Part 2)

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 03/16/20 •  4 min read

It’d probably be more appropriate to call this NOT Skiing in the Time of COVID-19. Because right now, that’s the new reality.

On Friday I posted about some of the things that were going on as the ski world began responding to the coronavirus crisis. But over the weekend, things quickly began to escalate. We moved from two resorts shutting down in the Northeast — Berkshire and Catamount — to closures by just about every resort in US. Even the gorillas in the industry — Vail and Alterra —decided to cease operations. Anyone who was open after these announcements fell like a row of dominoes.

Needless to say, some people are miffed. I’ve seen responses on social media that go sort of like this: What’s the big deal? It’s an outdoor sport. Just close the gondolas and base lodges. Boot up in the car, stay out of the lodge, and wear goggles, gloves, and face protection. We’ll all be fine.

The problem is we won’t be fine. Coronavirus goes where people go, and a ski resort doesn’t operate in a vacuum. You need lifties and mechanics to run and service the lift. You need people to clean up and rent equipment. So even if you boot up in your car and stay out of the lodge, you’re still putting staff at risk. And other skiers, too.

You don’t have to have symptoms to spread the virus.

People can transmit COVID-19 for two to three days before they show any signs of illness. Think of it like this: we live in concentric circles, and our lives intersect with others in many, many ways. So if you’re not taking preventive measures, you can infect other people, who can infect other people, and on and on and on.

And yet, some people still don’t get it. We’ve all been told to practice social distancing. Yet here are some photos from this past Friday. The first is from Mount Snow…..

Mount Snow, 3/13/20 (Photo from Northeast Skiology)

and this is from Tremblant.

Mont Tremblant, 3/13/20 (Photo from Northeast Skiology)

See any social distancing going on? I don’t either. Not good.

Another problem: Transmitting the virus to ski towns, where there’s minimal medical care.

This is important. Ski towns aren’t built for medical emergencies. Take Vermont, where I live. Each week, thousands of visitors come from all over the place to ski. If you happen to visit and spread the virus, it’s a very real problem for the people who live here. The state only has around 1,178 hospital beds. My town doesn’t even have a full time doctor. So more infections mean a greater burden for the state’s limited medical resources. A man who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 had come up from Westchester County, NY, a hot bed of coronavirus infection. Shutter ski resorts, and you get fewer visitors with potential infections. And that can make a huge difference.

I know the economic factors of a shutdown are enormous.

Obviously, shutting down early is a problem for resort employees, especially hourly workers who depend on time spent to bring home a wage. And the ripple effect is huge. Lodging, restaurants, retail — all will feel the effects of this. Again, take a look at Vermont. We’re a rural state, and tourism is a huge part of the our economy. This is really going to hurt.

Despite all this, I’m still in favor of the resorts for shutting down. Because the bottom line is this: People’s lives are on the line, and that’s more important than any sport. Yes, I would have loved to get in more ski days (though I finished with a pretty respectable 70). But really, that’s secondary to what’s going on. And though Vail Resorts and Killington — and perhaps others — said they’d “reassess” after March 22, I’m hoping they stay closed. The alternative just isn’t worth it.

Right now it’s impossible to know if we’re overreacting and doing too much, but it will be quite apparent if we underreact and do too little. We can only do the best we can and hope that it works.

Stay healthy, everyone.

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