SAM Magazine—Natick, Mass., July 9, 2020—Mountain resorts in North America that are open for summer operations didn’t really know what visitation would be like over the typically busy 4th of July weekend due to limited/modified operations and rising COVID-19 concerns. As it turns out, several areas were pleasantly surprised with how loud the (online) register was ringing, according to a quick and random check-in SAM conducted.
Killington, Vt., was just about firing on all cylinders over the holiday weekend. It offered golf, lift-served mountain biking, scenic gondola rides, Adventure Center activities, and both indoor and outdoor dining options—and the people came. Mountain bike visits, golf, and gondola rides were on par with last year, according to communications manager Courtney DiFiore, who said the volume may be attributed to the growth in year-round season pass sales. Lodging and Adventure Center saw a slight decline in participation compared to last year. The resort held a drive-in fireworks display Saturday night, with an estimated 1,500 people watching from their cars.
“We had a great holiday weekend at the resort,’” said president and GM Mike Solimano. “It may look a little different as we follow CDC guidelines, but we’re still able to offer a full menu of summer adventure.”
At Bromley, Vt., spokesperson Savannah Strom said, “Overall the July 4th holiday weekend was very promising. Business levels, both in terms of guests enjoying the parks and revenues, were better than we had anticipated.” Strom also said guests “were overwhelmingly considerate when following our new COVID guidelines, and that gives us immense hope for the remainder of the summer season and the winter to come."
Okemo, Vt., is offering golf at Okemo Valley Golf Club, scenic chairlift rides on the Sunburst Six, Mountain Coaster rides, and disc golf. “Business was steady, with Saturday being the strongest day of the holiday weekend,” said communications manager Bonnie Macpherson. “We really didn’t know what to expect, so we prepared ourselves for a busy few days.”
She said safety protocols are working out well and guests were very cooperative with regard to social distancing and wearing face masks, which are required where people are waiting in line or congregating. Macpherson said the Jackson Gore Inn courtyard has been transformed into what feels like a park.
Jay Peak, Vt., opened up a few floors of lodging, the Flowrider attraction in the indoor waterpark, outdoor pool, Jay Peak Golf Club, and the Clubhouse Grille. The resort was 90 percent off last year’s pace, according to GM Steve Wright, adding that lodging was the hardest hit due to the limited operating capacity. Golf, however, was stronger than expected, given that 70 percent of golfers come from Canada during a typical year. “I’ve been surprised how resilient that part of our business has been, but it’s still in difficult shape and likely will stay there until the border re-opens,” said Wright. The resort’s Relocation Vacation packages—multiple months of lodging with golf and pool access added in—have sold well, but it’s still a fraction of the typical bottom line.
Cranmore, N.H., opened for the season on June 27. For the July 2-5 period, "We were down 26 percent in total admissions and up 2 percent in revenue" compared to last year, said president and GM Ben Wilcox. In part, that reflects the addition of a bike park and keeping the adventure park closed. The bike park is outpacing last year's adventure park numbers, he noted; the bike park was meeting pre-COVID projections 10 days after opening. Staffing levels are running about 70 percent of last year, with fewer attractions open.
"We decided to operate rides that allow for social distancing and attractions that could be effectively staffed (no high touch points with guests)," Wilcox said. "We were able to keep social distancing standards in place. We require guests wear masks at the ticket office, bike rental, and retail, getting on and off lifts, getting on and off rides, and at F&B. Staff all wear masks when within six feet of guests.
"Overall, most people are following guidelines A few parties refused to wear masks, and we refunded them, or they left before buying. We had very few examples of this, though. Most people bring masks and we are happy to provide them if they don’t have them.
"For all the constraints and safety procedures, we are pleased with our start to the summer season," Wilcox concluded.
Up in Canada, Les Sommets has opened its waterpark at Sommet Saint Sauveur, as well as mini-golf and mountain biking. The waterpark is operating at 30 percent of normal guest capacity, a self-imposed limit for the safety and security of guests, said spokesperson Ariane Lauzon. Nearly 90 percent of tickets are being purchased in advance online, compared to 45 percent in a typical year. The waterpark has sold out once since opening July 1. Lauzon said two trends they’ve noticed after seven days of operation: fewer people than expected, and everyone has been “mostly calm and chill.”
Mountain Creek, N.J., is having a record season at its golf course, which is now allowed to operate at full capacity with social distancing protocols in place, said VP of marketing and sales Hugh Reynolds. The bike park is seeing strong visitation, outpacing its revised budget projections for operating at 50 percent capacity. Daily tickets and rentals nearly sold out on July 3 and July 5. The waterpark opened July 2 and is also operating at 50 percent capacity, but nearly sold out over the weekend, bolstered by hot and dry weather. Reynolds said lodging over the holiday weekend was ahead of revised projections.
Further south, Sugar Mountain, N.C., held its annual “Summit Crawl” race to the summit, and filled all 200 spots allowed under the state’s guidelines. Spokesperson Kim Jochl said the resort implemented a staggered start to maintain physical distancing. Chairlift rides for fireworks viewing sold out on Saturday, with staff monitoring physical distancing at both the base and the summit, according to Jochl.
At Aspen Snowmass, Colo., “We had a good holiday weekend, though not really close to business levels we’ve seen in ‘normal’ years,” said Aspen Skiing Company VP of communications Jeff Hanle. Weather impacted some on-mountain operations, likely limiting some business the resort may have seen. Hanle said lodging had some good last-minute pickup, but not nearly approaching the 90 percent occupancy of years past.
“The Lost Forest has seen consistent business since opening in June. The Snowmass Bike Park has seen very strong business and is pacing ahead of last season at this point. Bike rental has also been very strong. Camp Aspen Snowmass has also seen good numbers with a surge in people looking for private Camp experiences,” added Hanle, who said numbers so far are better than first projected, but still behind previous summers.
At Snowbasin, Utah, the holiday weekend included mini golf, shopping, scenic gondola rides, gondola-served mountain biking and hiking, yoga on Saturday, and a BBQ lunch special both Saturday and Sunday at the top of the mountain. “We were pleased with the visitation we had,” said communications specialist Megan Collins. “We were able to manage the volume and still maintain proper social distancing and sanitation guidelines.”
Deer Valley, Utah, is open with three outdoor dining operations, lift-served mountain activities—including mountain biking, hiking, scenic rides, rentals, and lessons—lodging and retail. “We opened on June 26, so the July 4 holiday weekend was our first big test operating under our new COVID protocols,” said senior communications manager Emily Summers. “The visitation was strong but manageable.” Deer Valley hit overall projections for on-mountain activities, and came close to normal capacities there.
Arizona Snowbowl has had a strong summer season thus far. “Over the holiday weekend, Friday and Saturday were our biggest days,” said assistant GM Rob Linde. “The holiday numbers matched last year's numbers or any other summer numbers for that matter. We're not seeing a change in demand due to COVID.” The resort has implemented considerable safety measures due to the pandemic, of course. Beyond social distancing, hand sanitizer, and mandatory masks, base area capacity has been limited, all tickets are being sold online, and all operations are outdoors. Indoor lodges are closed, and food and beverage is sold out of a small food trailer.
“We are very encouraged by our overall results for summer business. We have learned a lot that will carry into winter,” said Linde.
Idaho has progressed into Stage 4 in the “Idaho Rebounds” plan for COVID, and Schweitzer marketing manager Dig Chrismer thinks that motivated people to venture to the resort over the weekend, which saw great weather, too. “All of our normal summer activities were available, including our climbing wall, trampoline jumper, scenic chairlift rides, downhill mountain biking trails, and dining options on the summit and in the village,” she said. The resort has robust safety protocols in place. Chrismer noted that a lot of the visitors over the holiday weekend seemed to be traveling from a wide range of places, including California, Utah, Texas, and Washington.
In California, Boreal opened to the public on July 1 and started day camps shortly after. GM Amy Ohran said, “It’s going really well so far. Our team and guests have been great at accountability to the new measures, even our kids with the mask order. We are operating at full capacity, but day camp only, which is a new model for us.”
This is mostly good news for the industry, as it relieves a lot of uncertainty regarding visitation levels, guest behavior, and the current COVID environment. As Chrismer summed: “It is a strange new world, but there's a feeling that people are itching to travel. We are trying to be as flexible as possible and welcome our guests as safely as we can!”
Stay tuned for continued summer operations coverage of other regions that we may have missed in this report.