If you had asked me in the spring of 2019 what to expect over the next year, I know I would have been pretty far off. From joining the Alterra Mountain Company family, to COVID-19, to Win Smith’s retirement announcement, this past year will certainly get a full chapter in the Sugarbush history book.
Despite all of this change, I can assure you that our commitment to providing a great skiing and riding experience has not wavered. We believe that getting out on the mountain is one of the best activities you can do this winter. The mountain is the perfect environment to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family or by yourself, while providing plenty of opportunity to socially distance. Skiers and riders can do their part by booting up in the car, spacing out on the chairlift and on the trails, and spending as much time as possible outside rather than in the lodges. The built in protection of gloves, masks, and goggles that come naturally to us skiers and riders is also a big plus.
Of course, this will only work if we all follow the guidelines and stay committed to keeping our greater Sugarbush community safe. I know that we are all up to the challenge. I strongly believe in personal accountability – each person taking the responsibility to do their part — and the idea of personal accountability is what is so great about skiing and riding. When you are going down the slopes it is all in your hands. You choose your trail, your line, and your speed. You accept your own responsibility for getting down safely while being mindful of those around you. This idea of personal accountability is especially relevant during the current pandemic.
You should have already received a letter from Alterra Mountain Company CEO, Rusty Gregory, but I would like to highlight some specifics of the operational changes you can expect at Sugarbush this winter. You can also stay up-to-date on our latest changes and announcements here.
Tickets and Passes
As Rusty stated in his letter, the plan at this time is to offer only date-specific tickets this season in an effort to control visitation on our peak days. This means we will not be offering products like the Quad Pack or the Four Pass this year. Sugarbush-specific passes, Ikon Passes, as well as the Ikon Session Pass 4-Day are going to be our priority this winter. At this time, season pass holders will have no additional restrictions outside of what their pass would normally have and those without a season pass can purchase online tickets in advance, when available. We may limit the number of online tickets available for certain days.
A season pass is still the best way to access Sugarbush this winter. But those planning to purchase online tickets should do so as soon as possible once we put them on sale. It will be first come first served.
We still plan to open on schedule, weather permitting, on Saturday, November 21st, with Mt. Ellen scheduled to open Friday, December 18th. While we do not anticipate any adjustments to our snowmaking or lift operating plans, we will be changing the way we load lifts in order to maintain appropriate social distancing. I think we benefit from our lift system being spread out in this regard. We don’t need to overly rely on any one specific lift and having plenty of terrain to spread people out. As a side benefit, we expect that between this and limiting overall skier capacity on certain days guests could see an improved ski experience with less overall downhill traffic.
Lessons and Rentals
We will soon be announcing some changes and offerings at our Ski & Ride School. Unfortunately, we have had to make the difficult decision to not offer any group lessons or seasonal programs this year. Although we know how disappointing this will be to many of our guests, there is just no other way to limit interaction between participants in these groups. Many of whom will be from different households or bubbles. We will, however, be offering private lessons and will get creative with additional offerings as we plan through the fall. Stay tuned on that front.
We will continue to offer our fleet of rental and demo products. All gear must be reserved and purchased online in advance. There will be specific pickup times for each reservation. We are currently looking into solutions for no queue waiting to make this experience better.
Food and Drink
We plan to significantly increase our grab-and-go food and beverage offerings throughout the resort. Both at our current facilities and potentially at new ones. Capacities in restaurants are going to be limited, but we plan to offer sit-down dining in some of our venues. Base lodges and retail outlets will also operate at a reduced capacity. We are purchasing additional heaters and furniture to encourage guests to dine outdoors whenever possible.
The health and safety of our guests and staff is our primary focus. We will continue to follow the State of Vermont guidelines for protocols and capacities. We expect that there will be changes to our current plans throughout the season as we learn what does and does not work. But we are hopeful that this is a great starting point. I look forward to welcoming you back to Sugarbush this winter. I believe that together we are poised to overcome the challenges this season will present.