Based on comments and opinions by four prominent ski industry leaders, the 2020-21 season will look very different from previous years. The North American Snow Sports Journalists Association (NASJA) organized a June 25 Zoom presentation that included Vail Resorts President/Mountain Division Pat Campbell, National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) President and CEO Kelly Pawlak, SnowSports Industries America (SIA) President Nick Sargent and Ski Area Management (SAM) Magazine Editor Rick Kahl.
Like many who are involved in leisure/travel related industries, all four admitted that it is difficult to plan or accurately determine how the coming season will unfold. They cited the unpredictability of the Coronavirus and its impact on various parts of the country as well as changing state and regional regulations/guidelines regarding it. Rental operations, dining facilities, bathrooms, even parking restrictions all can and probably will be affected.
Campbell and Pawlak indicated that resorts will have to prioritize aspects of the customer experience and season pass holders will benefit from that direction. Pawlak stressed the importance of planning in advance and choosing to ski or snowboard midweek instead of holidays and weekends when areas tend to be more crowded. Not surprisingly, Campbell noted that flexibility (among consumers) will be key.
Crowd control will be a focus and online booking with a robust platform is a developing tool for use by resorts. A-Basin used an online lottery system to sell a limited number (650) lift tickets when it reopened briefly at the end of this past system. The overwhelming demand crashed the system and created some not-so-pleased skiers and snowboarders who tried and failed to get tickets.
Both Campbell and Pawlak indicated that resorts are looking to operations in Australia and New Zealand for guidance since the Southern Hemisphere is now entering its winter season. Kahl noted that most resorts in South America are closed for their winter season due to the surge in the virus in many countries. The ski industry also is confering with counterparts in the restaurant, travel and hospitality industries for guidance on how to plan.
“It’s going to be messy if things are not under control,” said Pawlak. Depending on the situation, she suggested thinking about alternative outdoor winter activities such as snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, sledding and tubing.
Kahl opined that resorts will try to encourage people to make reservations anyway possible – contactless transactions (online), doing more with credit cards, practicing social distancing in restaurants and bathrooms (markers on the floors), monitoring car lines in parking lots, food lines. Dine outdoors (with wind breaks on desks and out on snow), adaptors on doors so you can open with an elbow and not your hand.
On the product side, Sargent indicated that there is an abundance of unsold inventory available in the marketplace due to the early resort closings. He said that new product for the coming season will be less than normal but that carry over product will be more plentiful than in most years.
Coming soon: Speakers also addressed the industry’s position on Black Lives Matter and encouraging newcomers.