Vt. Ski Resorts Downplay Last-Minute Trips, Emphasize Safety During Pandemic

Typical marketing, which emphasized snowfall and occasionally last-minute decisions, has been replaced by education around the state’s COVID-19 visitation policies

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School vacation week for many southern New England communities, combined with significant snowfall expected this week in much of northern New England, means a getaway to Vermont’s ski resorts is on a lot of people’s minds.

However, those destinations are having to strike a careful balance this season between promotion and safety during the pandemic.

In the past, a holiday week combined with snow in the forecast would have destinations basically saying, “Drop everything and get up here,” but with the state trying to limit the spread of the virus, ski areas such as Smugglers’ Notch Resort are now more cautious.

Smuggs is educating visitors in a prominent spot on its website about new regulations, such as not sharing accommodations with people you don’t live with.

“It’s hard to hold back from giving the message about how great conditions are,” acknowledged Smugglers’ Notch spokesman Mike Chait. “But sometimes, hearing that message is enough for you to want to break a rule and do what it takes to get out on the mountain. And right now, that’s not what this time is all about.”

Killington Resort has also gotten away from the familiar focus on bragging about snowfall totals in its social media and other marketing efforts. Instead, Killington is pushing what changes to expect to ticketing, lodge operations, lift loading, and more.

“It is brand new this season,” emphasized Killington spokeswoman Courtney DiFiore. “From how you start your vacation—planning online in advance—to when you get on resort, it’s a much different experience.”

Visitors to the new open-air gallery at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro, Vermont, are encouraged to bring cross-country skis or snowshoes to make their way through the art trail.

DiFiore added that because Killington attracts visitors from near and far, it has had to tell those guests to keep a laser focus on guidance provided by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“Because from state to state you have different regulations going on, we made sure to constantly push that Vermont state regulations need to be looked at prior to coming here,” DiFiore told NECN Monday.

Sugarbush Resort recently posted drone photos to social media to showcase physical distancing.

That destination started telling people weeks ago to plan their Presidents’ Day weekend and school break trips early, so they can comply with Vermont’s quarantine or test-negative-before-you-come policies.

“Guests have really figured it out and gotten into a good rhythm—and so far so good,” said Sugarbush spokesman John Bleh.

Locals have expressed skepticism about whether skiers and riders from out-of-state are really following Vermont’s quarantine requirements.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, Killington Resort in Vermont is stepping up to the plate and giving away food as a way to help employees out.

However, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, and his health commissioner, Dr. Mark Levine, have repeatedly said that data from contact tracers has not shown those resort visitors have been a concerning source of disease spread.

Back at Smugglers’ Notch, brothers Jackson and Tyler Aucello were loving their school vacation week trip Monday.

The fourth and sixth graders from New York said their family is carefully following guidelines around COVID-19 prevention.

“You keep everybody safe by wearing the mask so nobody else gets COVID,” Tyler Aucello said.

“You need your face coverings,” added Jackson Aucello. “Because if you don’t have them, then, like, all the snow will get into your face.”

Other travelers to Smuggs said they’re glad to take the rules seriously to avoid outbreaks that could stop them in their tracks by halting the season.

“I don’t really hear much complaining,” snowboarder Jacob Nahmias said of rules like mask-wearing.

“If we don’t follow [the rules] and wear the masks, you know, the mountains are going to close, and we’re just not going to be out here and get to enjoy it,” warned skier Brett Rogers.

On its website, the trade group Ski Vermont provides information on Vermont’s travel policies and links to individual resorts’ rules around limiting the spread of COVID-19.

While residents of Vermont do not need to quarantine before going skiing in their own state, they are expected to follow other resort policies such as mask-wearing and physical distancing.

A nationwide project is calling on skiers and riders to contribute goggles to help protect frontline medical staff against COVID-19.
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