Operations at Vermont's ski resorts look very different this week than most holiday weeks—but patrons say they're enjoying getting outdoors, despite changes forced by COVID-19.
Cochran's Ski Area in Richmond joins other ski areas in now encouraging folks to treat their cars as a base lodge, to gear up more safely during the pandemic—instead of inside.
It's a different experience," dad Andrew Peet said of using his car to get his child ready for a day of skiing, noting he found the concept worked well. "On cold days, I'll bet you it'll be tough."
The week between Christmas and New Year's is, historically, one of the busiest of the season for the industry.
However, this year, because of the pandemic, reduced capacities, advanced reservations, masks, and measures to help contact tracing are the norm at ski areas around the state.
Cochran's moved its snack bar outdoors, adding fire pits and extra porta-potties to make up for the fact the lodge is mostly closed.
"The lodge, normally, for us is people shoulder-to-shoulder drinking hot chocolate and just totally packed in," said Jimmy Cochran, one of the family members behind Cochran's. "I'm super impressed with how willing people are to practice social distancing."
Around larger resort destinations, some neighbors have wondered how seriously skiers and riders from out-of-state are taking Vermont's quarantine requirements. When the topic has come up at recent COVID-19 media briefings, state officials have said they have not traced disease transmissions to skiing or riding.
The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the trade group Ski Vermont have launched education campaigns, and Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, recently pointed out pass privileges could be yanked for any skiers or riders flouting the rules.
At Cochran's, a smaller area where many locals learn to ski, class enrollment has been kept lower than normal—for health reasons—and instructors said they're pleased with everyone's compliance with the new regulations.
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"It's also contactless teaching right now," said instructor Clara Slesar. "We have the parents stick around if the kids aren't able to get up on their own. Normal years, we'd just pick them right up if they need help."
Even though COVID-19 daily case infections and deaths in Vermont have been higher in recent weeks than anyone would like, the state still is seeing comparatively fewer transmissions than most others, aside from Hawaii.
Scott and Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont's health commissioner, have been urging people to remain vigilant on COVID-19 prevention methods such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, and avoiding crowds—especially indoor group gatherings.
On the Monday after Christmas, the Vermont Department of Health reported 87 new daily infections, for a total number of 7,120 cases since the arrival of the virus. As of Monday, there had been 129 deaths in Vermont of people known to have COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the latest health department data.
Skier Mawuena Tendar was at Cochran's Monday, where she told NECN and NBC10 Boston that she and her family moved from Brooklyn to Vermont because of COVID-19, adding that she has felt safer during her time in Vermont than in the city.
Living in Vermont has given her family the opportunity to explore mountains, lakes, and other outdoor settings, Tendar said.
"It's definitely a great place for families—we've been loving our time here," Tendar said. "It's temporary, but it's going to remain a really great memory. A terrible year, but a great memory for our family."