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Washington ski resorts opening with COVID rules

Skiers in Washington state. (File photos by erocsid on Creative Commons,)

Thanksgiving weekend means only one thing for many outdoors enthusiasts: skiing!

Crystal Mountain, just 100 minutes from Seattle, is already open to skiing. Tickets, generally in the $100 range for adults, are available for specific days. Such is the case for all the major resorts in Washington state.

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Besides several passes for a variety of schedules, Crystal has a few other bells and whistles for snow lovers, such as a ride on the gondola and space to park your RV to work from the mountain. Yes, there is Wifi in the parking lot! Crystal has posted its COVID precautions here.

Stevens Pass, about 90 minutes east of Everett on Highway 2, plans to open on Friday, Dec. 4. Again, you need to pick a specific date to ski and buy in advance online or over the phone. Individual tickets, in the $90 range for adults, will go on sale starting Dec. 8. Pass sales will go “off sale” on Dec. 6.

“Pass Holders get priority reservation access this season,” according to the resort’s website.

Vail Resorts, which owns Stevens, has outlined COVID precautions here. They include mandatory face coverings and practicing physical distancing.

The Summit at Snoqualmie Pass, only about 50 minutes east off I-90, is set to reopen in the first week of December as long as the snow keeps falling.

Posted on the resort’s website: “Opening day through opening weekend will be open to Summit passholders and Ikon passholders only. At this time we do not plan to require reservations for Summit passholders.”

The Summit says it plans to open individual lift ticket sales after the initial opening of the season. Tickets usually run about $65 for an adult.

The resort has published a list of COVID-19 precautions here, which also includes mandatory face coverings.

Responding to COVID

“We’re very optimistic about skiing this winter,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs at the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. “The fact that we ski outside in ultraviolet sun and in the wind, and it’s common for us to wear goggles, gloves and face coverings. All of those things bode very well for us as a sport.”

Dr. Daniel Pastula, a neuroinfectious disease physician at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital, said the outdoor element of ski trips is generally safe during a pandemic, but the virus could spread if people congregate in places such as lift lines, lodges, restaurants and bathrooms.

“I think you can ski smartly and safely. Again, not completely eliminating the risk, but really reducing it,” he said. Pastula listed now-common safety measures for skiers to follow, among them staying outdoors as much as possible, avoiding crowds and staying home when sick.

Vail Resorts, which owns 34 resorts in the United States and Canada, including Stevens Pass, announced months ago that it would implement a reservation system that allows pass holders exclusive access at the beginning of the season, unlimited week-of reservations and a rolling selection of priority days.

Resorts will limit capacity based on past visitation rates, available terrain, traffic modeling of the upcoming season, and how individual resorts handle COVID-19 restrictions, CEO Rob Katz said.

He acknowledged that some guests might not be able to ski and snowboard any time they want but said, “the bottom line is, is that in a typical season for most days, capacity at our resorts is at a level that would not require us to have to impose any limits.”

For many, the reservation system and other restrictions are not enough to keep them home after being cooped up under health orders for the greater part of a year.

During a Sept. 24 earnings call, Katz reported that sales of season passes were up 18% this season compared to the same time last season — a development Byrd attributed to “the cabin fever effect” heading into the winter.

“I think people are looking to the ski areas — 470 ski areas in the United States — as a way to have a safe outdoor recreational experience,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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