Vail Resorts updating operating policies to adhere to state guidelines |

Vail Resorts updating operating policies to adhere to state guidelines

Skiers and snowboarders ride Vail Mountain's Mountain Top Express chairlift in this file photo.
AP Photo | Peter M. Fredin

On Oct. 19, the Colorado Department of Public Health issued guidance for ski resorts, with Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan saying the state’s top priority is ensuring health care systems in ski towns aren’t overrun this upcoming season.

Four days later, the department shared a modeling report, showing that current transmission control levels in Colorado aren’t high enough to prevent cases from increasing, and the holiday season could bring a growth in cases which could accelerate to the point where “intensive care unit hospital capacity may be exceeded in December or January.”

In Eagle County, Vail and Beaver Creek resorts Senior Communications Manager John Plack said the company agrees with the state’s assessment that the ski industry must be out-front in its approach to ensure a safe and successful season in Colorado.

“We support the state’s ski area guidelines,” Plack said. “Our resort plans, which are consistent across all five of our Colorado resorts, were developed to prioritize the safety of our employees, guests and communities.”

Adjusting plans

Vail Resorts published those plans in August, preempting some of what was recommended by the state on Oct. 19, including face-covering requirements and physical distancing.

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But the state guidance also included other requirements for which Vail Resorts will have to adjust its plans. Isolation housing availability will be required “to create opportunities for visiting guests to safely isolate and quarantine themselves in the event that they test positive or need to quarantine during their stay and cannot travel,” according to the state guidance.

Plack said Vail Resorts will update some of the company’s operating policies in the weeks to come, subject to local review and discussion.

Vail’s updated plans regarding the state guidelines and isolation housing requirements is one of several pieces of information guests are waiting on heading into the 2020-21 season. The company will require guests to use a reservation system to access its mountains, with priority reservations and week-of reservations offered. But the company has not answered all questions about the reservation system, including capacity limits for booking, and what day people can book week-of reservations.

Lessons from Australia

In a call to investors on Sept. 24, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said Vail Resorts learned several lessons about skiing in the era of COVID-19 through its operations at Perisher Ski Resort in Australia, which opened June 24 and closed Oct. 5.

“A key lesson was that it was critical for us to dial in the capacity of the resort,” Katz said.

Investors asked about the capacity of Vail Resorts North American destinations — if and when capacity limits would have been enforced if similar reservations would have been in place during the 2019-20 season — but Katz did not provide any numbers.

“It’s tough to give precision around that,” Katz said.

Katz also said Vail Resorts now has the experience of managing a reservations system in Perisher to draw from.

“In Australia, we had to (learn how to manage the reservations system) very, very quickly, with limited opportunity to really create a custom system,” Katz said. “We’ve taken that and now we’re going to be launching a much more sophisticated approach to those pieces.”

Less snow = more capacity restrictions

Katz also said weather will play a big role in the demand on the reservations system. Australia saw record-low snowfall this season, Katz said, which meant there was less terrain for crowds to disperse upon.

“One of the things we took away from that experience is that the reservations system was critical for those type of moments,” Katz said. “We believe the insights that we’ve taken allow us to hone the operating plan for this year in North America to a much greater level of sophistication.”

Katz said capacity limitations will represent the biggest impact to the operating plans of the company’s North American resorts this season.

“If we have very poor (snow) conditions, then we may see the capacity restrictions be more frequent,” Katz said.

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