After the pandemic winter, Tahoe skiing will change. here’s how

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Northern California ski areas breathe a collective sigh of relief as a season overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic draws to a close.

No coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to the facilities, although skiers and snowboarders have crowded western resorts and clusters of cases have been reported in ski areas across Colorado. Revenues at some Lake Tahoe resorts have declined dramatically, but haven’t created the kind of operational barriers that many resort managers feared.

The Sierra ski areas opened on time thanks to the early season storms in October and November, then closed for the year in mid-April, right on target. Spring ski hubs Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows stay open a little later; Squaw closes on May 16 and Alpine on May 9.

“To have a successful season without a single resort having to shut down and stay in line with everything we had to manage until the end is huge,” said Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry. Association. “I think everyone is feeling pretty good, even though it wasn’t the best snow year.

Although the Sierra has received only about 70% of its annual historic snowfall, the pandemic has prompted dozens of people to explore the outdoors. Traffic around Tahoe was slow on snowy days, resort parking lots filled up, and cross-country skiing and tobogganing areas were overrun on a daily basis.

Although ski resorts did not share attendance statistics, officials say the season went as planned: Skiers and snowboarders wore masks, spaced out on the chairlifts, had lunch in their cars and drove off. abstained from after-parties.

“I was surprised to see how the skiers turned out to be rule-followers, but they were,” said Kevin Mitchell, General Manager of Homewood Mountain Resort.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, neighboring resorts owned by Alterra Mountain Co., had no problem persuading guests to comply with the new rules, said Liesl Hepburn, public relations manager for Squaw-Alpine. The possibility of skiing – or the threat of station closures – was enough motivation.

“Our guests and employees deserve a ton of recognition for staying positive and allowing us to stay open,” said Hepburn.

Vail Resorts, which operates Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, said in a statement that there was “no major disruption” in its operations.

After closing abruptly in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, Tahoe’s 11 ski areas have spent the summer fine-tuning their operations, preparing their lodges and training staff on new safety protocols.

The biggest change this year has been the new rule that skiers and runners book their tickets online in advance to reduce crowds. Some resorts already offered the service, but it was often overlooked by people planning last-minute trips to chase fresh powder.

Reservations will not be required next season, but some resorts intend to limit daily capacity.

Station managers hope more people will benefit from online ticket reservations. Knowing how many people will be showing up on a given day and what exactly they need helps resorts reduce wait times at rental shops, food queues and lift mazes.

“It worked so much better for everyone to get things going,” Mitchell said. “This last minute planning aspect of skiing – we still have to understand this challenge.”

Technology was a key theme for the season. Many resorts have looked at contactless technology and have stepped up their mobile applications to organize crowds and keep services flowing, and these innovations could endure in the long term.

“The pandemic has forced many changes,” Reitzell said. “Fortunately, resorts have learned that some of them, especially technologically speaking, are pretty good. “

Homewood, Sugar Bowl, Sierra-at-Tahoe and other resorts installed RFID gates that allowed pass holders to seamlessly walk through the lift lines. These could become a standard for Tahoe skiers in the future.

To avoid long lines at rental shops and cafeterias, several resorts have implemented mobile online appointments and food orders – important developments that many resorts are looking to keep. They are “here to stay” at Squaw-Alpine, with digital report cards for skiers taking lessons, Hepburn wrote.

While many resorts viewed winter as a success, several lamented the near absence of socializing – at lodge and hatchback parties, competitions, and other community events – that make ski resorts great places. fun to hang.

“The skiing experience isn’t all about snagging the first chair or going around your favorite park,” Keith Lederman, Sierra-at-Tahoe communications and content manager, wrote to The Chronicle.

“This is the community and experience that surrounds all of ski culture, and we can’t wait to bring back all of the elements that make this industry so amazing to be a part of it. “

When asked what she couldn’t wait to bring back next winter, Hepburn replied, “One word: after!

Gregory Thomas is the Lifestyle and Outdoors Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @GregRThomas

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