NH ski areas adapt to ups and downs

Mountains implementing pandemic safety protocols for new season
Chairlift 3

A fresh coat of natural snow falls on the quad lifts at Cranmore Mountain on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Rachel Sharples)

What’s new and different from last season for the 2021-22 skiing and riding season?

It all depends which area you go to, says Jessyca Keeler, executive director of Ski NH, the Conway-based organization of 33 alpine and cross-country ski centers.

“Last winter, we advised visitors to ‘know before you go,’ and that advice holds for this year as well,” said Keeler. “With the safety of guests, staff and our communities our priority, we’ve compiled resources needed to make informed decisions this season.”

There is no single statewide standard for Covid-19 precautions, she said, but all New Hampshire ski areas are implementing numerous safety guidelines and protocols.

“Many practices that came into being last year are coming back this year, such as keeping base lodges free of ski bags. Many areas are providing storage lockers outside but not inside the lodges,” said Keeler. Masks are likely to be required for many indoor spaces as well.

“No matter where you plan to ski, plan ahead, bring a mask and a vaccination card if available, as some indoor facilities may require them,” Keeler said, noting that “a lot of ski areas will require people to wear masks inside except perhaps when dining — so plan on bringing a face mask with you for when you plan to go inside to dine or use the restrooms.”

Ski lifts will likely be loaded to capacity this year.

“Last year, only members of a same group could board a lift together. This year, there might be some variations on gondolas. But generally, for regular chairlifts, you will be able to ride with people not in your group,” she said.

Keeler noted that Vail Resorts, owner of Attitash, Wildcat, Mt. Sunapee and Crotched Mountain ski areas, has its own set of rules, including checking the vaccination status for certain indoor cafeteria-style dining, said Keeler.

According to Keeler, since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, ski areas benefited from the desire of people to get outside. Overall total winter visits (including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and tubing visits) during the 2020-21 season totaled 2,295,424 visits, which statistically matches the 10-year average.

Alpine skier visits alone were also up 5 percent over 2019-20 (to 2,066.011), but down 3 percent compared to the 10-year alpine skier visits average. Cross-country skiing was down 10 percent (to 112,009) over the previous year, and 8 percent off the 10-year average, whereas snow tubing was up 1 percent (to 117,404) compared with 2019-20 and up 9 percent compared to the 10-year average.

Keeler noted that while there were no state-mandated restrictions on the numbers of people who could ski last season, limitations on chairlift capacity and indoor lodge capacity resulted in many ski areas managing daily visits by limiting the numbers of tickets sold, and this impacted the overall skier visit tally.

“It’s a testament to the hard work of our industry and government leaders that not once did any New Hampshire ski areas have to shut down due to a Covid-19 outbreak,” Keeler shared.

Looking to this season, Keeler said skiers can expect to find improved snowmaking, grooming, lifts and lodging, thanks to extensive capital investment across the state.

This article is being shared by partners in the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

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