MONTPELIER — Winter sports at ski areas will look different this year, officials said Tuesday while announcing new guidelines at the governor’s twice-weekly news conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Snow is on the ground today,” said Ted Brady, deputy secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. “So it’s time to talk about skiing.”
Calling new guidance on skiing in Vermont the “safest and strongest” in the country, Brady said customers will need to comply with the state’s travel guidance and provide information in case contact tracing is necessary. He said ski areas are already reducing the number of out-of-state staff members “but the guidance clearly says they have to.”
Liftlines need to be altered so guests aren’t standing too close together. Chairlifts are required to hold half as many riders as usually allowed unless parties are traveling together, and gondolas need to have spacing to provide 6 feet between guests.
Base lodges need to stay at 50 percent of occupancy allowed for fire safety or have a maximum of 75 people in “one unique space no matter how big,” Brady said. He said resorts should be lenient with cancellation policies to avoid having guests who are sick but don’t want to lose money.
“This is going to take a lot of preparation and adaptation by both the ski areas and guests this year,” he said. “The state worked hard to come up with this guidance but I want to thank the Vermont Ski Area Association for working with the state to develop the guidance....”
Through a new $2.5 million grant program, Vermont is offering funding to ski resorts to help make safety improvements. Brady said a dozen resorts also took advantage of the state’s Economy Recovery Grant Program to replace lost revenue. He noted resorts closed in March and opened with restrictions for summer operations with no problems.
“We need to open the ski industry, we want to, people will need that for their physical and mental health,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said in support of the guidance despite a growing number of cases in the state and region.
Brady said visitors traveling from counties with high caseloads and deemed “red” zones by the state can quarantine for 14 days before coming to Vermont or seven days followed by a negative test. He suggested visitors check out vermontvacation.com before coming.
The state also announced plans for winter athletic competitions.
Julie Moore, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said they couldn’t find ways to allow wrestling or indoor track to happen in schools this winter. Cheerleading squads won’t be able to do vocal routines.
Spectators aren’t allowed to attend indoor games or practices this year, which Moore acknowledged might cause some disappointment.
“We are looking at what opportunities or tools might be available to promote broadcast games online or TV or even the radio,” she said. “We’re looking at ways right now we might be able to bolster more support for that sort of activity.”
She said guidance allows one adult or family member to accompany a student-athlete but discourages them from going inside school facilities. Winter school sports include basketball, dance, gymnastics, hockey, Nordic skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding. Masking mandates are required for players, coaches, officials and referees. After looking at virus transmission in an outbreak associated with hockey in Montpelier, the guidance strongly discourages in-person socializing associated with team sports.
Practices can begin on or after Nov. 30. Interscholastic games, meets or competitions can happen no earlier than Jan. 11. Moore said those six weeks allow health officials to look at any trends that emerge and make adjustments if they find virus transmission occurring in sports settings.
In “deference to the election,” Gov. Phil Scott didn’t participate in the news conference.