PARK CITY, Utah — As ski season rolled out last month despite a lack of snow, resorts appeared well-equipped to put Covid-19 protocols into place. With a reservation system to limit numbers, abundant signage explaining chairlift distancing, and shuttered gathering places and pop-up bathrooms, many locals said they believed the resorts were doing the best they could in an impossible situation.
Mountain spokespeople along with employees on the front lines reported that early season skiers were mostly compliant with the new rules, and things were off to a good start.
Then came blackout week. With locals who didn’t purchase the highest tier Epic Pass unable to ski during holiday vacation, the slopes are now primarily filled with out-of-towners.
TownLift’s recent visits to Canyons and PCMR highlighted that distancing and mask-wearing, though required by both county mandate and the resort’s own policies, are not always happening.
Interviewing unmasked skiers and boarders over the weekend about why they weren’t complying with the new rules, TownLift received various explanations from people who said they were visiting for vacation.
“I’m pretty sure I’m immune!” said a woman from Florida who was tightly packed into a roughly 15-minute lift line with her entire face uncovered. Her husband was also unmasked, though her adult daughter wore a mask.
“It takes everyone doing it for it to work,” explained an unmasked visitor from Chicago who waited in line with masked children and an unmasked adult companion.
“Leave us alone,” said a group of four unmasked out-of-towners who did not give their home state.
Several PCMR ‘redcoats,’ the employees tasked with enforcing Covid-19 protocols in addition to providing visitor information and assistance, expressed helplessness and admitted there was no way to enforce the policies without vastly more staff than are currently on the mountains.
“You walk by, tell them to pull up their masks, then they pull it right back down,” one said.
Better compliance from Parkites might stem from a personal connection to the resorts’ success as part of the Park City economy: stay safe to stay open. Locals who ski and ride may also fear that a Covid-19 outbreak will take away their favorite winter-long activity. Out-of-towners, no matter how much they love to visit, may lack that sense of community.
“We’re very excited to welcome our guests to the slopes this season and appreciate everyone’s support of our policies so we can stay safe and stay open throughout the season,” said Jessica Miller, senior communications manager for Vail Resorts. “Our entire team is working hard to provide the safest experience possible, and we will continue to stress compliance and personal responsibility as the season continues.”
On Dec. 27, as visitors swarmed PCMR, the lift line for King Con just before lunch was about 10 minutes – far shorter than others in the vicinity – but mask compliance looked to be less than 50 percent of those in line. Around trail maps, at the base and pretty much everywhere, people were unmasked, gathered in tight groups and calling out to friends all around in a decidedly pre-Covid scene.
Asked if he thought the situation would lead to a shutdown, one redcoat admitted that he would feel safer, personally, if it did, given what was occurring.