By Steve Cuff
JUNE 1 is the official start to “winter”, but that may be the only normal and certainty of the 2020 snow season.
Normally we would not speculate without fact, but in this instance, we gaze into our crystal snow ball to offer a scenario that will not be far from actual fact.
Mid week you can expect an announcement from the NSW government for the “NSW Snow Season” start date after the Victorian government announced today their official season start date as June 22.
Word filtering out from the alpine resorts which is certain for 2020 is that snow enthusiasts will see DRASTICALLY REDUCED NUMBERS permitted on the slopes. This is to comply with all NSW Health Department regulations for social distancing and the amount of people certain areas can cope with when implementing these social distancing rules.
Due to rules that need to be enforced, the resorts just cannot operate this year with their usual numbers.
If you consider average mid-week daily “skier numbers” to be approximately 8000 to 11000, expect a reduction of these numbers by 40% to 60% depending on the resort.
The unfortunate aspect of this scenario is people will miss out. It is highly likely many snow lovers will not be able to visit for their preferred snow dates. It will make it more difficult for regular weekend skiers and boarders.
But the ALTERNATIVE to this is having NO snow season at all.
While you digest what could happen this snow season, remember and please put this government decision into context.
We are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic; the rules of the world have all changed and that includes skiing and snowboarding capacity at resorts.
The super busy days and weekends of past seasons will simply NOT be allowed.
Numbers will be reduced for social distancing regulations. PHOTOS: Steve Cuff
Season Pass Changes
Vail Resorts announced on May 19 they “will not take the final payment for your 2020 Epic Australia Pass on 1 June.”
“By 15 June, we will share more information about the season ahead as well as new pass options that will address the expected COVID-19 impacts on our season.”
“Once we have shared more information, you will have the option to request a refund of all payments made towards your 2020 Epic Australia Pass and Pass Refund Protection or move forward with a new pass product. If you decide to purchase a pass, the final payment date will also be announced on 15 June, after you have had the opportunity to consider your options.”
On May 22 Thredbo Resort announced, “To allow us to operate within the current social distancing restrictions however, we’ll need to modify how we operate this winter and we’ll be in touch with all those details as soon as we can.”
“Please note that we won’t be taking outstanding payments on products until we have more details and a clear opening date. Thanks for your patience.”
These statements mention “consider options” and “modify how we operate” which simply put means the season pass will not go ahead in its traditional fashion. The resorts would not be able to control numbers if everyone showed up on the same day.
How each individual resort will operate is yet to be determined, but we are sure they will have sleepless nights considering all the logistics?
You as a visitor should also consider your options once the resorts announce more detail. There are many points to consider when embarking on a snow holiday including accommodation and access to slopes. Access this year will be different.
The actual slopes will be less crowded this year.
Let’s delve into some more detail we know.
June 6-8 Long Weekend
There will be NO LIFTS running on the traditional June long weekend that is normally associated with the start of the snow season. Plus, all usual major events have been cancelled for this weekend.
Perisher, Thredbo and Charlotte Pass will NOT be operating any lifts on the June long weekend.
This week you can expect to hear from the National Parks about how they will comply with number restrictions. They will need to be vigilant which “may” include restrictions during the long weekend as all resort amenities are not open. Especially in Perisher Valley.
While the government have indicated camping grounds will reopen, you should consider that even though several campgrounds are free here in Kosciuszko National Park, you may have to pre book for a position and possibly pay a fee.
Again, this is all about social distancing and controlling numbers to be COVID-19 safe.
During the actual season, when it starts, depending on how numbers are restricted within the resorts, if you plan to go backcountry or even arrive for snow play and tobogganing, you could be requested to have a trip intention form to enter the National Park. Having a booking with an official backcountry tour guide could be required.
Trip intention forms are recommended for backcountry enthusiasts, to indicate your intended route of travel, how long you intended to be out and what friends or family have been notified. Visit your local National Parks office for more information or NPWS website.
If you are in this demographic, please seek more information before you just turn up and expect everything to be normal.
The resorts plus surrounding alpine towns have a vast capacity to cope with tens of thousands of people. But it may not be much point having a bed if you cannot access your preferred mountain.
All accommodation venues will also have to adjust to the current COVID-19 regulations of the time. This has already resulted in numerous smaller club lodges deciding they will not open this season.
Some commercial lodges may also look at their individual circumstances and decide if they can operate safely, comply with regulations and at the same time offer their guests the standard they expect.
How does oversnow transport operate with multiple strangers in a cabin? Will Skitube at Perisher operate with any normality, as most on snow guests access Perisher via Skitube?
Venues in the mountains as we know can be limited with space, and while it creates great atmosphere, this year will be a hindrance as they will have to comply and adjust numbers to suit. The government have indicated while they are now allowing more numbers per establishments, you still need to comply with 1 person per 4 square metres of space in restaurants.
More details on all these topics will be revealed in coming weeks plus as the season progresses there could be ongoing changes.
Resort Capacity and Terrain
The social distancing problem is not necessarily on the slopes, as we all ski or snowboard apart. But when we stop to line up at chairs or ride the lifts we are often at close quarters.
This will pose a problem for resorts, hence part of their reduced numbers to comply. Quad chairs will not seat four people unless they are family, Thredbo’s new gondola could be a private ride for many, and it all leads to more logistics for the resorts to manage.
While numbers may be limited, expect longer wait times to ride the chairs as social distancing rules are adhered while loading the lifts.
With restricted numbers also comes less revenue, depending on the lift ticket charges. This could also pose a problem for bigger resorts. Does Perisher open all lifts and terrain for example?
Companies will also need to look at their overall budget. Without the full complement of season pass holders, they will need to make tough decisions across their departments. The normal day to day operation of the whole snow industry will see significant changes this season.
Do ski school lessons operate as per normal, what does ski hire look like in busy shops. People will need to wait outside, and sanitizing returned equipment will need to be implemented to a higher level this year. We know shops are updating their procedures to adjust.
Guests who normally visit with bus groups may find they have all been cancelled at present.
We are all aware by now of COVID-19 and its implications. It is on the news multiple times per day.
Guests should be self-aware that they should not travel or visit any area, including the snow if they show symptoms of flu like conditions that could be COVID-19.
The region’s medical centres and hospitals are always in more demand during winter, and this year they have added pressure of the coronavirus. At this stage we have not heard of any dedicated extra facilities but will inform you more in the coming weeks of any developments.
It is understandable that some local community members are concerned about their and the community’s health, but all these decisions to open are being made by NSW government health authorities.
Seeing bus groups this season will be a rare sight.
This story was published with the sole intention of providing a “Heads Up” approach to this season so that you are not caught out as the government implements numerous rules as part of their safe COVID-19 plan.
But there are many more exacting details still to unfold and as the season progresses, situations could change.
This year is not the year you make last minute decisions to go to the snow, as you may be disappointed you cannot access a lift ticket without prior arrangement.
Accommodation bookings should also be considered wisely. It could be best to wait until you have a clear understanding from the resorts in the coming weeks as to the exact makeup of lift ticket purchases before you jump in at the deep end for an accommodation booking.
Booking direct with local booking agents and venues in the mountains will offer more chance for answers to your questions.
If you have an existing booking and a season pass, be sure to monitor your preferred resort announcements closely in coming weeks.
Accommodation venues likewise would also need to have clear guidelines for their guests, and outline current situations, especially to those visitors who may not be as familiar with the procedures of visiting for a snow holiday.
Good luck this winter, we hope you all manage to have a slide.