State provides strict guidance to ski resorts

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State provides strict guidance to ski resorts

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 4:44pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine The Agency of Commerce & Community Development today announced its Vermont Ski Resort COVID-19 Winter Operations Guidance. This guidance aims to provide skiers and riders a safe skiing and riding experience, ensure the health and safety of the thousands of Vermonters who work in the industry, and protect the health and safety of the communities that host these resorts.

Additionally, the deadline to submit applications for the Vermont Ski Area Recreation Safety Grants has been extended to Friday, November 6th. Ski areas may utilize this deadline extension to assess their project needs and ensure their grant requests reflect this most current guidance. Ski areas who have already applied may re-submit an updated application package as necessary. 

Deputy Secretary Ted Brady outlined the guidance at a press briefing Tuesday morning (Governor Phil Scott did not attend the regular briefing in deference to the election). Brady praised SkiVermont and the resorts themselves with helping coming up with the mandates.

Brady outlined six provisions that will act as a guide for the ski resorts as the season proceeds. He noted that these mandates could be adjusted depending how COVID-19 progresses or recedes in Vermont, the region and in the nation.

At the moment, the Vermont situation has gotten slightly worse but stabilized, while the region has seen increasing cases and the US is now seeing the greatest number of cases to date with numbers swelling in all regions of the country. 

Brady acknowledged that the growing number of cases within the Northeast region travel zone leaves the fewest number of people able to travel to Vermont without quarantine since they instituted a travel map in June. Back then, the number of people who could travel to Vermont was about 19 million, it ebbed and flowed during the summer, but the recent surge in cases across the region has now reduced that number to 331,000.

In addition, the Canadian border is entirely closed to recreational travel for the foreseeable future, leaving northern resorts, specifically Jay Peak, in an even greater bind.

Still, Brady encouraged people to visit Vermont by either quarantining before or after they arrive for two weeks, or one week followed by a COVID test. 

Mandatory Ski Resort Guidance

1) Visitors must attest at the resort that they have followed the COVID protocols, specifically quarantining and then driving (not flying) straight to Vermont.

2) Every visitor must provide contact tracing information to the resort.

3) The resorts must reduce as much as possible out-of-state workers, and those workers must understand that they are essential workers who are not allowed to socialize in Vermont.

4) Lift operations will be strictly limited to related guests or where possible, like the Jay Peak Tram, to six feet of separation. Otherwise, unrelated individuals will have to travel alone, even on a quad chair.

5) The ski lodge will have capacity limits similar to other venues. The maximum capacity will be 75 people or 50 percent of the fire code limit, whichever is smaller. This includes outside, enclosed tents.

6) Lenient cancelation policies. This is to provide visitors with an easier out in case they cannot make it to Vermont because of illness or similar concerns. This will help keep people from coming here even if symptomatic because they already have spent a lot of money on a vacation. "Stay home if you're sick," Brady said.

The state has set aside $2.5 million in grants for ski areas to help mitigate the costs of these COVID procedures. The resorts also can apply for other state grants to offset economic losses (www.accd.vermont.gov).

The ski industry is a billion dollar business in Vermont and accounts for about $400 million in state tax revenue.

"Out travel guidance is not a suggestion," Brady said. "It is mandatory."

Brady said they will use extensive education to encourage visitors to comply with and, frankly, be honest about their circumstances.

Visitors could have their ski passes revoked and be asked to leave the resort, Brady said. But there are no plans as of now for further enforcement, just as the state has implored people to wear masks and not travel to "red" areas outside the state.

The ski resorts already are laying out their own procedures. Their season was cut short when the pandemic hit last March. The late winter-early spring tends to be when ski resorts make a profit, which they missed last season and now are entering an uncertain winter.