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Local resorts close in response to coronavirus

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WEST DOVER — Two local ski resorts have closed out of concern for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mount Snow will be closed until at least March 22, according to a news release from its parent company Vail Resorts Inc. Alterra, the owner of the nearby Stratton Mountain Resort, announced it has suspended operations until further notice.

"This has no doubt been an incredibly challenging time," Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, said in the release. "With 37 resorts spread across 15 states and three countries, we — like the rest of the world — have been closely tracking every new development related to coronavirus (COVID-19) and have been in constant contact with local health officials for guidance. Without question, our top priority has been the health and wellbeing of our guests and employees — and to no lesser extent the health and wellbeing of the communities where we operate. We know each decision we make has a broad impact far beyond our operations."

Alterra's decision was made "after careful thought and deliberation of our duty in the face of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak and in what we believe is in the best interest of our guests, employees and local communities," according to a notice on Stratton's website. The company also shut down Sugarbush Resort in Warren.

Stratton said all lift operations, food and beverage, retail and rental services would be closed. The resort plans to work with guests in canceling visits and provide refunds.

"We anticipate heavy call volume over the next several days and appreciate guests' patience as we work hard to respond to all inquiries," Stratton said. "We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this short notice will undoubtedly create. We look forward to welcoming you back to the mountains as circumstances improve."

Katz said the decision to suspend operations at all of Vail's North American resorts and retail stores was made with stakeholders in mind and the most up-to-date information from local health officials. That time off, he said, will be used "to reassess our approach for the rest of the season."

All scheduled seasonal and year-round will be paid during the eight-day closure without needing to use vacation or sick time, according to the release.

"Their commitment to our company and guests during this uncertain time has been unwavering and I am personally grateful beyond words," Katz said.

Lodging and property management operations will remain open for guests on location or those with existing reservations, according to the release. But no new reservations will be taken for the upcoming week.

"We will be closing our corporate offices and apart from essential personnel, we will be asking other employees to work from home, where possible," Katz said. "This decision provides a pause for the entire ecosystem of our mountain resort communities. It gives everyone the time to assess the situation, respond to ever-changing developments, and evaluate the approach for the rest of season, if we believe it is advisable or feasible to re-open."

Katz said the decision to suspend operations had not been an easy one to make.

On Friday, Vail Resorts announced that its properties would remain open and precautions would be taken. Lodges were to be regularly disinfected, food services would be limited and social distancing would be encouraged.

But on Saturday, the company reversed course "as we deeply considered the impact it will have on our guests, employees, and the people and businesses in our communities," according to the release. Katz noted the change may be confusing given the prior communications.

"Please know that this has been a fast-moving, constantly developing situation with new information from our communities coming to us by the day, if not by the hour, and we are trying to react as quickly as we can," he said. "People may also wonder why we are not giving more notice ahead of this closure. We understand the challenges this creates, but our priority is to minimize any additional issues from operating in further uncertainty and to avoid potential crowding."

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Katz said the company sincerely apologizes to guests at its resorts and those who were planning to come. Information on the remainder of the season will be provided Friday.

Websites will have information on cancellations, refunds and travel credits. Season passes and Epic Day Passes are non-refundable and not transferable to another season but the company said it will be reviewing those policies and will provide updated guidance in the coming weeks.

"These are unprecedented, challenging times for everyone," Katz added. "We will continue to navigate these unchartered waters with our guests, our employees and our communities remaining our highest priority. I am certain that there have been, and will be, moments where we will miss the mark and potentially disappoint. However, rest assured that we will continue to listen to your feedback — and continue to make the best decisions we can for everyone's wellbeing."

Pete Ripley, owner of Invasion Board Shop on Route 100 in West Dover, said his business fully supports Vail's decision to close Mount Snow.

"We fully understand the safety of people during this outbreak is way more important than seasonal retail in the area," he said in an email. "Obviously, it is more important to slow down the spread of this than it is to sell a snowboard."

Ripley said the closing of New England ski areas, even in March, will affect all seasonal brick and mortar retail stores.

"Most seasonal ski/snowboard shops open in October and spend a great percentage of the season paying off vendors," he said. "Some seasons, our only profit is the end of the season sales. "

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Ripley had found business challenging due to many back-to-back weekends of rain and ice. He said with a lot of leftover product, his store will need to review all of the orders it made a few months ago for next fall and make cuts.

The hope is for a better ski season next year.

"We would like to thank everyone who came in to support us this season and we know we wouldn't be here without the great job Carinthia Parks and Mount Snow does, for the following we have by local snowboard academies and all the local support," Ripley said. "We hope that all retail stores, restaurants and lodging get through this and come out the other side stronger."

Valley View Saloon, also on Route 100 in West Dover, announced it would be closing Saturday until further notice "due to public health concerns."

On Sunday, Killington Resort and Pico Mountain said it would suspend operations for the same time frame as Mount Snow.

"Suspending our operations is a necessary step for us to take in support of our nation's efforts to limit the spread and risks associated with COVID-19," Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort, said in a news release. "This is an unusual and dynamic situation, however, we continue to believe outdoor mountain recreation provides a meaningful escape to nature, which is what made this a difficult decision, but the correct decision for now."

Announcements were made earlier that Jay Peak, Burke Mountain and Middlebury Snowbowl would be closing.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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