Skiing in the time of COVID-19

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 03/13/20 •  9 min read

As if you haven’t heard enough about the coronavirus (the organism) and COVID-19 (the disease), I’m about to talk about it here, too.

It’s hard not to, since the entire world seems positively consumed with it right now. Whomever you talk to, wherever you look on social media, whenever you turn on the TV,  it’s pandemic 24-7.

This is hardly a surprise. People are scared, and with good reason. A pandemic is about as frightening as it gets. You don’t know who carries it, you don’t know when or where it’s going to strike, and you won’t know what the disease will do until you get it.

Not to get too crazy, but the influenza pandemic in 1918 killed 50 million worldwide, HIV/Aids 25 million, and I won’t even go into the Black Plague. But let’s not panic (taking a deep breath here).

New developments are constantly pouring in, and the situation changes by the hour. Schools and colleges have closed. The NBA and the NHL have canceled their games, and Major League Baseball has postponed spring training. Ben & Jerry’s, the iconic Vermont ice cream company, has cancelled its annual free cone day. Even Mount Everest’s climbing season is shutting down. My inbox is full of statements from ski resorts, stores, companies of all sorts communicating their COVID-19 response. Everyone is advocating an abundance of caution. And though that takes many forms, it really sounds like a good idea.

So what’s going on in the ski world?

To be honest, there’s a lot of confusion about what should be done. Again, this isn’t surprising. We’re in new territory, and uncertainty abounds. There’s even a very, very long thread on TheSkiDiva forum entitled Is Coronavirus Changing Your Ski Plans?

That said, as I write this (on the morning of March 13) a few resorts are packing it in for the season (Berkshire East and Catamount in Massachusetts, Mt. Abram in Maine. Be sure to check the end of this post for the GM of Berkshire East’s amazing letter announcing the closure). But not everyone is closing. I’ve gotten a number of emails from resorts detailing the steps they’re taking to stay open. Many are putting extra cleaning measures in place. For example, I skied Stratton (VT) yesterday, and noticed the presence of increased hand sanitizers as well as staff wiping down bannisters and bathroom facilities. Whiteface (NY) sent out a statement saying that it will be operating with a 50% density reduction within its indoor facilities, closing its gondola, and limiting lifts and seating capacity on lifts. Snowbird (UT) has closed its aerial tram.

But there are a lot of cancellations, too. Here are the ones I’m aware of right now. Remember, the situation is fluid and changes minute by minute. Your best bet is to check with your resort or event organizer to determine where things stand:

Italy: Shut down. If you had a vacation planned there, you know this already.
Tyrol region, Austria: Ditto.
The Women’s World Cup: All remaining races have been canceled.
US Ski Resorts: As of now, Berkshire East (MA), Catamount (MA), Mt. Abram (ME) have announced closures. The list can change daily, so check with your resort to find out more.
US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame: Canceled its induction ceremony and all events scheduled for March 24-29, 2020 in Sun Valley, ID.
Rendezvous Spring Festival: March 26-28, Jackson Hole. Cancelled, along with all spring music events.
North American Snowsports Journalists Association: Annual meeting canceled (yes, I’m a member).

The following major U.S. and Canadian events have been canceled:

• Coop FIS Cross Country World Cup, Minneapolis, Minn.; March 17
• Moguls U.S. Freestyle National Championships, Squaw Valley, Calif.; March 19-22
• NASTAR National Championships, Snowmass, Colo.; March 24-28
• U.S. Alpine Tech Championships, Aspen Highlands, Colo.; Mar. 28-31
• SuperTour Finals, at Sovereign Lake Nordic Ski Club in Vernon, B.C.; March 25-April 2
• NorAm Alpine Finals, Panorama, B.C.; March 17-24

So what’s a skier to do?

• Put this all in perspective. I love skiing, but really, is it worth risking your life? Or the lives of those who work hard to make it happen — and by that I mean the workers at the ski resorts who keep things going? No. So let’s not complain if your favorite resort shuts down or curtails operations. These are someone’s parents, children, lovers and friends. Your health and theirs are more important than any sport.

• If your resort is still operating, exercise caution. Give that gondola a pass. Don’t touch anything in the lodge, and if you do, don’t touch your face. Consider putting on your boots in the parking lot. And more importantly, do the following:

• WASH YOUR HANDS! I can’t stress this enough. According to Consumer Reports, coronaviruses are some of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate product. The virus is enveloped in a coating that allows it to merge with other cells to infect them, Just the friction from scrubbing with soap and water can break that envelope, rendering it ineffective. (For CR’s complete article on the household products that can destroy the coronavirus, go here.)

• Social distancing. One of the biggest contributors to spreading the coronavirus is proximity to other people. So reduce your density. Avoid crowds, and stay at least 6 feet away from others.

• If you have a ski vacation planned, many resorts and airlines are being a bit more understanding and either providing refunds or waiving cancellation fees. Then again, some things are more important than money. Remember that if you get stuck.

• Ski the backcountry. Who needs resorts, anyhow? If you’ve always wanted to ski off trail, here’s your chance. All it takes is appropriate gear, avalanche training, and a few buddies who’re willing and able. No lifts or gondolas to deal with, no base lodges, no crowds. You’ll be socially distant and skiing, at the same time.

A little light reading

If you’re as consumed by this pandemic as everyone else, I’d like to recommend an excellent book: SPILLOVER, by David Quammen. Quammen is a first rate science writer. Everything he writes is both understandable and engaging. In SPILLOVER, he traces the emergence and causes of new diseases all over the world, describing a process called “spillover” where illness originates in wild animals before being passed to humans. I read it when it first came out in 2012, and it’s fantastic. Highly recommend.

The takeaway

Exercise caution and stay safe. And keep things in perspective: Remember, it’s only skiing.


And now, the GM of Berkshire East’s letter announcing the resorts closure.

It’s lovely, and it makes me want to ski there next season:

To our Berkshire East and Catamount Guests and Employees:

Berkshire East will close for the season today, Thursday, March 12 at 4pm and Catamount Ski Area will not reopen this weekend. COVID-19 has been discovered in the surrounding hill towns and multiple people are being quarantined. To be clear, no known Berkshire East or Catamount customers or employees have been affected by this illness, but as the GM of these businesses, I have a responsibility to my employees and my customers to act swiftly to contain any potential virus spread in areas that I can control.

In 2006, I was buried in an avalanche in British Columbia. While being buried in that tumble of snow the only thing I could think of was “this isn’t worth it…” This experience informs me now as the only thought that comes to me is, “no ski turn is worth a life.”

My role in this business was given to me by my father who loves being at the mountain every day. His demographics put him at a higher risk than others. If I can’t recommend that he visit his facility, how can I ask anyone else to do the same? Our staff is our family. Our guests are our tribe.

Thus, with conviction, we believe that our businesses can be leaders (however small) in beating back COVID-19 from its current beachhead by immediately closing for what remains of the winter season.

There simply is no benefit to remaining open.

The best science shows that this type of aggressive mitigation is both inevitable andoverwhelmingly in support of the public good.

We urge other business leaders and our elected officials to follow suit in continuing to aggressively close down public spaces so we can proactively begin to get this insidiousness behind us.

We send the full weight of our prayers to the healthcare workers and their families who are on the front lines of this battle. As this illness spreads exponentially, we must all take immediate action to “flatten the curve” in order to allow our nation’s health care workers to make effective headway against the current caseload of COVID-19.

We shout from our mountain tops that you can make a thousand daily impacts by washing your hands, not touching your face, practice social distancing and simply sit back while doing everything in your power to stop the spread.

This is certainly an inconvenience to our customers and will result in major changes for our staff. None of this is going to be easy and we are passing into unknown territories. But like any good skier knows, you beat back challenging situations by pressing forward into them aggressively and decisively.

Lastly, this is personal, I’m related to medical professionals working in hospitals with active outbreaks. We shut down out of love and support for these people and the staffs in these hospitals.

We are confident in the future. We will announce a reopening date for our whitewater rafting, zip lines, aerial adventures, and biking in the coming weeks as guidance comes down from the CDC, the NIH and WHO.

Jon Schaefer
Catamount Ski Area / Berkshire East Ski Area



Related Posts