It could be a banner year for skiers and snowboarders throughout the Poconos with cold weather and big East Coast Nor’easters.
And while the coronavirus could change the way winter enthusiasts enjoy their favorite mountain, managers at area ski resorts are doing their best to make sure the winter sports season remains intact.
“It’s going to be a little different this year,” said Shawn Hauver, Managing Director for Camelback Resort in Tannersville.
He said their big priority is to try and minimize crowding. This season, customers will only be allowed to purchase tickets online so there is no gathering a ticket windows. Customers will then pick up their lift tickets at a nearby kiosk so as to limit face-to-face contact.
“One of the great things about ski season is you’re outdoors,” said Hauver. “You’re already wearing a mask and because skis are long, it’s almost natural to have six feet of distance when standing in a lift line.”
Skiers and snowboaders will also be limited as far as the lodge when it comes to gathering restrictions. Hauver said there will be food trucks set up outside for people to buy food.
Hauver said they got ‘much practice’ this summer by running the outdoor waterpark ‘Camelbeach.’
“We felt we learned a lot about how to manage the larger crowds and manage things in this environment,” said Hauver. “We’re applying all of those things as we approach ski season.”
Pennsylvania has 26 ski areas across the state, with the bulk of them located in the Pocono Mountains and ranks sixth in the U.S. with about 3.5 million winter visitors each year.
It has a $360 million economic impact on the state, according to the Pennsylvania Ski Association, which did a study of the ski industry in 2014. More than 14,000 people work at ski resorts across the state.
Snowsports dump about $2 million in tax revenue into Pennsylvania’s economy.
Ashley Seier, spokesperson for Blue Mountain Ski Resort in Palmerton, said they too, have eliminated ticket windows so all tickets must be purchased online.
“We are asking people to buy 48 hours in advance,” she said. “That way if we have to limit capacity, we can do so automatically by cutting off ticket sales.”
Since lodge capacity will also be limited, Seier said they will urge people to put their ski gear on in their car. Food trucks will also be set up outside.
People riding the ski lift to the top of the mountain will only be allowed to ride with the people who are in their party – if you traveled alone, you will ride alone.
She said they have not received any guidance from the Commonwealth as to ‘how’ to reopen, adding that they’ve mimicked what other states are doing in the northeast like New York.
“We are preparing for the worst,” she said. “We have these guidelines in place, but as everything changes, we will be adapting.”
Gregg Confer, General Manager of Elk Mountain in Union Dale, said he thinks people want to get outside and they want to ski.
“I think it has the potential to being a good year,” he said. “That being said, I hope we have the opportunity to give them a good year. I hope that the coronavirus does not come back stronger as it seems like it’s trying to. I hope things are under control.”
Confer said they are encouraging customers to tailgate in the parking lot, so as to limit time in the ski lodge.
“People who have called and asked have been very receptive,” he said. “Now once the winter weather hits, who knows.”
He said they are in the process of putting signage up telling customers they can’t reserve tables in the ski lodge. Elk Mountain’s restaurant, the ‘Winter Garden’ will operate at 50-percent capacity, according to state guidelines. The same will happen for the cafeteria in the main lodge.
“It’s a big inconvenience for us as well,” he said. “Hopefully people will participate and follow the rules.”
Confer does expect to take a financial hit. He said there’s been a lot of upfront costs in developing a new kiosk system for people to buy tickets as well as new signage.
He said he’s also trying to find extra staffing to make sure people are compliant.
“It’s going to be awkward for the public and for us,” he said.
On the flip side, he said the rules may keep more Pennsylvanians skiing in Pennsylvania rather than traveling to other states where they may have to quarantine upon arrival.
“Maybe they will stay here,” he said. “I’m not sure what will happen.”