OGDEN — After closing early last season to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Weber County’s biggest ski resorts are set to open on schedule this winter, which local officials say will only serve to boost the economy.
Earlier this week, Davy Ratchford, vice president and general manager of Snowbasin, said the Huntsville ski resort is set to open, weather conditions permitting, on Nov. 25.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been six months since we closed ... early due to COVID-19,” Ratchford said. “We’ve worked long and hard to formulate a plan to ensure (skiers and snowboarders) are able to enjoy much needed time in the mountains.”
Ratchford said the resort will implement a host of adjustments this season to allow for social distancing recommendations made by health experts throughout the pandemic. First, the resort will require face coverings in all public spaces for guests and employees. Those spaces include all indoor areas, outdoor patio spaces, shuttles, warming huts and other temporary facilities, gondolas and chairlifts, and when social distancing of 6 feet or more cannot be consistently maintained. Guests will not be required to wear face coverings while eating or while on trails skiing a safe distance from others.
Snowbasin officials will also monitor guest volume during peak periods. Ratchford said that during some holidays and weekends, the resort may need to implement overall volume restrictions.
“We don’t expect this to happen often,” he said. “But we want to be prepared to restrict numbers if necessary.”
The potential restrictions will first include reducing the ability to purchase lift tickets, followed by capping access to the resort for guests. The resort will not be implementing a reservation system. Measures will also be taken to limit capacity on shuttles, trams, gondolas and chair lifts, and the resort will further implement enhanced cleaning protocols in lodging and dining areas.
Powder Mountain, in Eden, is estimated to open on Dec. 11, and similar social distancing measures will be implemented there. Nordic Valley hasn’t yet released a firm opening date, but according to the resort’s website, season passes went on sale Sept. 18.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said the openings are positive news, in many respects.
“I imagine there’s a lot of built up excitement from people wanting to get up on the mountain,” said Caldwell, a skier himself. “So in that sense, it will be a nice return to normal, but it’s also important for the economy.”
Caldwell has long championed the greater Ogden area’s outdoor recreation scene, including the ski industry, as an economic driver.
According to Ski Utah, the state’s ski season in 2018-2019 — the year before COVID-19 threw a wrench into things — was the best ever in terms of sheer numbers. At 5.1 million skier days, attendance during the 2018-19 season was 12% higher than the state’s previous record of 4.58 million in 2016-17 and up 24% from the 2017-18 season, according to a study from Ski Utah.
Despite a 14% attendance drop last season due to the pandemic, the Ski Utah report said state ski resorts, which are generally centered in the northernmost third of the state, still had a direct economic impact of $1.6 billion last year.
The outdoor recreation scene has been one of the few industries that hasn’t suffered during the pandemic. As an example, an August report from the Wasatch Front Regional Council showed that bicycle trips in the planning arm’s five-county Northern Utah coverage area are up 40% during the pandemic. Trips to open-space areas (city, state and national parks, trailheads, etc.) are up 160%.
“I saw the report on how much more people have been going outside,” Caldwell said. “The outdoor rec scene has basically blown up during the pandemic and the ski season will only help that continue.”