“The ultimate goal is to get open and stay open all season long”
By Kendra Walker
With winter just around the corner, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) prepares for its upcoming 2020/2021 season with new safety protocols established for employees and guests to ensure pandemic-friendly operations.
During the October 1 Virtual Town Hall hosted by Gunnison County Health and Human Services, CBMR vice president and chief operating officer Tim Baker spoke on CBMR’s plans for winter operations.
“We recognize how important the ski season is to this community,” said Baker. “The ultimate goal is to get open and stay open all season long.”
He continued, “We will be striving for consistency,” explaining that Vail Resorts is establishing expectations for guests ahead of time in order to be prepared for the wide variety of elements that could come this winter.
CBMR is scheduled to open on November 25, and staff has been collaborating closely with public health and elected officials on safety protocols and plans.
During the Zoom meeting, Baker walked through plans for safety, the new reservation system, operational changes and new features available to Epic pass holders.
The focus for winter operations is safety. “Our most important value has always been, be safe,” said Baker. “The protocols we’ll have in place are protocols in all of our North American resorts… We are training our staff as aggressively as we can to be ready for winter season,” said Baker, ensuring that staff will have extensive training, supplies and PPE equipment.
Baker explained that safety protocols will consist of three central elements: face coverings, physical distancing and adjustments to on-mountain experiences, including dining and ski school. Face coverings will be required to access the mountain, including in lift lines, while loading and unloading and in restaurants, retail and rental shops. Face masks will not be required while skiing. CBMR plans to make adjustments to the lift lines to ensure 6 feet of spacing, and will load only related parties together on chairlifts, or two unrelated singles on opposite ends of a four-person chair.
All pass holders will be required to make a reservation in order to ski or ride the mountain. A reservation is based on one full day of skiing; whether a guest skis for a couple of hours or the full day is the decision of the pass holder, said Baker.
“We expect for the vast majority of the days everyone will be able to ski safely on the mountain,” said Baker. “But we are planning for contingencies,” including powder days, holidays and limited terrain because of weather. Baker said capacities will be based on open terrain and historical visitation models.
Baker explained that pass holders will get the best access to the mountain versus single-day ticket purchasers; pass holders will have exclusive access to the slopes from opening day to December 8, will have the ability to make unlimited week-of reservations as availability and pass type allows, and will have the opportunity to book up to seven priority reservation days during the core season from December 8 to April 4. “It’s a seven-day max at any given time,” said Baker, explaining that if you book your seven days, ski one of those, then you can go and reserve another day. Mountain availability will be shown online to pass holders.
When asked if pass holders will be reprimanded for reserving a spot and not actually showing up, Baker said CBMR will be monitoring the system for abuses but details are still being worked out. “We don’t want pass holders just booking up every day of the season,” he said.
General lift tickets will go on sale starting December 8, and will be sold only online or by calling, rather than sold at the ticket office. Physical tickets either will be mailed or can be picked up and activated at the ticket office.
Uphill access will be allowed outside of operating hours, said Baker. “We certainly recognize how important that morning and evening skiing is to the community.”
As far as opening terrain, “We will follow our historical practices for opening up as many lifts and as much terrain as possible to allow for the amazing experiences for our guests,” said Baker. “We’re not holding back on lifts, we’re not holding back on terrain. Our intent is to get stuff open as Mother Nature lets us.”
In addition to the new chairlift seating protocols, dining operations will also be shifting. Restaurant capacities will be limited, seating will be spaced and transactions will be cashless. Physical distancing and spacing will also be established in public restrooms. Restaurant menu offerings will be limited and in more of a grab-and-go format, and full-service bars will be closed. “We’re trying to reduce gathering and lingering,” said Baker. “We encourage our guests and everybody to bring your food.”
Ski and Ride School will be limiting the size of groups, and CBMR will ask all participants and instructors to undergo online health screenings. Reservations for ski school will be built in, so those with ski and ride school passes will not have to make a reservation.
Additionally, “We are intending to continue to deliver all of our season-long local programming,” said Baker, including Mountain Sports Team, Cruisers and Mountain Adventures. CBMR is also working with the school district to continue the Ski for PE program. Choice Pass will continue and will be subject to the reservation system.
Baker said CBMR anticipates launching the sign-ups for the local programs in October and will be communicating with the public over the next couple weeks.
New this year, Vail Resorts introduced the free Epic Coverage Program for pass holders, which will include refunds if the resort closes due to COVID, or if pass holders experience job loss, injury or illness.
Also new this year, pass holders have Epic Mountain Rewards, which includes a 20 percent discount on food and beverage, lodging, group ski and ride school lessons and equipment rentals in all of Vail’s North American-owned and operated resorts.
Baker concluded the meeting, saying, “Thanks to [Public Health director] Joni Reynolds and the work she’s put in over the last six months and just kudos to the whole community. The decisions and communication and passion that’s been shown throughout the community has put us in a great position today… My ask, and I probably echo the sentiment of every person on this call, is keep up the hard work… We’ve got to continue being vigilant, making great decisions, get those masks on, because that’s what’s going to put us in the position to have the greatest opportunity to have an amazing winter season. So thanks for all the hard work, thanks for the partnership and all that everybody’s been doing throughout Gunnison County.”