As we approach the eight-week mark of open operations and look ahead to President’s Week, we wanted to take a moment to say THANK YOU. To the many, many passholders and guests that have been vigilant in following our COVID protocols – there are not enough words to express our sincere gratitude.
From the booting up in your cars, to the walking to/from our parking lots in your gear, to the use of port-o-potties, to the constant mask wearing, the physical distancing, the taking out of food, the eating outside, to riding lifts at reduced capacities, to the longer wait times for the buses, to the not using cash – we know the list is long and we are GRATEFUL. Your commitment to these protocols is what is keeping us open and skiing and riding together. What a beautiful season it has turned into; who knew that it snows in Vermont… like every day?!
To our treasured locals– you know who you are – we could not do this without you. We are blessed with many Sugarbush loyalists, and a plethora of local businesses that work in symbiosis with us – through hurricanes, no snow seasons, and now pandemics – we continue to ride this wave of uncertainty together. We know there are more of you “locals” this season than ever before as seen in the significant uptick in mid-week pass visitation. For years, Win challenged this organization to figure out ways to drive mid-week visitation. Who knew it only took a pandemic?!
To our friends from out of state, thank you to those of you who have opted to move here and stay with us for the entire season. Being a Mad River Valley local is kind of the best! Thank you to those of you that are doing the hard work of quarantining and testing on a regular basis, we know it is not easy to do. And to the many of you that have opted to take the winter off, please know that we miss you and look forward to seeing your smiling faces again when you are able or when guidelines are relaxed.
And last but never least, we offer a huge thank you to our staff who have worked tirelessly for many, many months to pull this together. It has not been easy. It has not been perfect. But we are doing it. To the classiest team I know – THANK YOU.
In the Sugarbush spirit of Adventure and Camaraderie, we look forward to skiing and riding together with all of you until May 2nd! There, I did it, John Hammond – I threw that dart. Win Smith, you are welcome.
Now on to a mid-season update. How are we doing? It can vary on any given day but overall, we think well. If we had to self-grade, we would give ourselves a solid Good Job. Are we perfect? Heck no. Are we better than most? That depends on who you ask, but we think so and many of you have shared feedback that you agree. But in fairness there remains a steady stream of concerns. And we get it. I mean, we are operating a ski resort during a pandemic. Repeat that sentence three times in a row and you will end up scratching your head – like we do every day.
So where are we at now that we have had a couple of months of operations under our belt? As a result of the Vermont travel restrictions and current State COVID Guidelines here are some stats to show just how altered things are this season compared to last: overall skier visits are down close to 20%, with paid visits down over 60%. The paid visits are the tickets, which are generally geared to the destination day or multi-day visitor. Food and beverage and lodging revenues are down by about 60%. You savvy financial folks know from a business perspective – this is a hit. Rentals and ski & ride are also down.
On the guest survey front our Net Promoter Scores or NPS (scores we receive based on feedback from those of you submitting surveys) continue to inch upwards, week after week. Of course, we know expanded terrain and improved snow conditions always help in this regard. But the steady increase in ratings, along with the regular influx of comments and suggestions helps us to continue to meet the ever-changing expectations and demands of this new COVID ski/ride life.
On the COVID side of things, we believe we have done a great job at keeping staff healthy. Since last March, only 10 total staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, with 21 total associated close contacts being identified (all of whom tested negative and none of whom were guests). Given that we have somewhere upwards of 800 employees, that’s an impressive stat across 11 months.
Here is a short recap of we have learned over these last two months:
It took us a few weeks, but we finally got our our lift lines / corral system set-ups dialed in at each of our lifts. We have our ghost lanes sorted out and we have corral managers overseeing the queuing process during peak periods. Did you see our drone shots from MLK weekend of our lift lines? If not, be sure to check them out – they were sweet and really showed how well organized and spaced out our customers were during a peak period. Thank you for your patience with us as we figured these out. And remember, lifts should only be loaded at 50% unless you are from the same household.
Food & Beverage
We have continued to hone our food & beverage offerings week after week. Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to learn our online ordering platform, TOCK. For many of you virtual lovers, it was a piece of cake. For others, we know it was a steep learning curve. Based on your feedback, now you will find all our outlets can accommodate some level of walk-up / on-demand ordering. We also moved our Lunch Box Food Truck up from the parking lot to the sunny side of the Gate House Patio, near Super Bravo Lift. It appears you all like this new location too. And you can now access the Gate House Cafeteria from the Lincoln Peak Courtyard. The surest way to know when an outlet is open is to check their hours listed on the free Sugarbush App.
Many of you finally found your way inside to our Gate House Lodge and Mt. Ellen Lodge Warming Rooms when the weather turned cold. We know it took a little while to get the hang of our new building flows, but it appears most of you are now enjoying a quick warm-up, brown bagging your favorite goodies, or enjoying many of the delicious resort take-out options. These areas started off slow but are now bumping every weekend, especially in the colder temperatures. Thank you for being patient when these areas form queues and for honoring our 30-minute time limits.
On any given day, depending on where you are on the mountain and who you speak to – you may get a different response on how we are doing with mask usage. I skied Mt. Ellen this morning with my husband from 8:30 – 10:00 AM and we observed excellent mask compliance at all three lifts: GMX, Northridge and Summit. However, my colleague skied last Sunday and felt mask compliance needed some attention. And some of you have shared this same feedback as well.
So, as I type this blog post, our VP of Mountain Operations, sent out an all-call for Mask Educators to work the lift corrals this weekend and into the holiday period. But we will take all the help we can get so if you feel comfortable – please speak up in a polite way and remind those around you to do the right thing and MASK UP. And please remember, not every mask is created equal. Pick a double layer fabric that covers your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin.
Port o Pots
We had some early season hiccups over at the Farmhouse with our outdoor toilets. But our Facilities team responded quickly and upgraded all those units to the larger handicap accessible style (way easier if you have little ones in tow), and we have upped their servicing to twice per week now. Thanks to those of you that shared informative feedback on your experiences of outdoor toileting with us this winter! Of course, don’t forget that both Gate House Lodge and Mt. Ellen Base Lodge have bathrooms available indoors as well.
We made some tweaks in our online rental system to now accommodate day-of reservations. And thanks to your feedback, guests can now also rent just a pair of poles or just a helmet, you no longer need to rent the entire package. Our sweet Demo Fleet featuring the Elan Rip Sticks and Rossignol Black Ops Line has started to pick-up traction with all this terrific snow. Passholders, do not forget you get a 10% discount on demos.
Ski / Ride
Our seasonal programs, known as Blazers, finally got greenlighted by the State in early January and they are now rippin’ it up every weekend. This season the programs are modified to comply with State guidance. It is nice to see these small pods of kids being outside, getting fresh air, recreating, and having fun together doing what we all love – skiing and riding. We know this type of activity is super important for children’s health & wellbeing right now, heck it is important for us too.
And we are calling this the YEAR OF THE PRIVATE. If you have not done so already, we would love to have you book a private coaching session with our ski/ride team to fine tune a skill or learn a new one. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so why not give your sweetheart the gift of an adventure like learning how to ski/ride over the tops of the moguls where all the snow is. Terry Barbour’s ski/ride team can teach you this.
Private Base Cabins
Based on your feedback, we went ahead and lowered our rates on these private base lodges, and now you can reserve them for as low as $159 midweek. If you have not checked them out yet, please do and see what our teams have done, especially at Mt. Ellen – to create a super inviting base camp atmosphere.
We cannot lie, going into this season we too thought the parking lots would be the best place for you to enjoy hanging out with your ski/ride mates. That is why we boasted the idea of your car as your base lodge. But then things changed in the late fall and the State mandated no social gatherings with anyone outside immediate household. So, it was then back to the Arrive, Ski/Ride, Leave, approach. We have no problem for those of you that arrive together in the same car to eat your lunch together or grab a quick drink at the end of your turns. But what we cannot have is extended hangout sessions with grills fired up and/or multiple cars of people hanging out together.
Until the State modifies their guidelines, we would really appreciate everyone’s commitment to no tail gating in our parking lots. You can always enjoy hanging out up in the Lincoln Peak Courtyard or back deck of Mt. Ellen as well.
And that is a mid-season wrap but I will plan to check in again sometime in March for another operations update. Between now and then please feel free to complete a survey or just drop me a line at 802.583.6382 or firstname.lastname@example.org