‘Stay Alive and Survive’: Ski Resorts Brace for a Pandemic Season

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OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — A trickle of skiers recently zigzagged down the slopes at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Couples and families wandered through the resort’s village, which was decorated with golden Christmas lights and frosted with snow.

It looked like the beginning of a merry season. But a closer inspection revealed it was anything but.

Restaurant patios were nearly empty as masked workers swept through with lime green disinfectant sprayers strapped to their backs, part of the $1 million that Squaw Valley has spent on sanitizing equipment and other safety measures. At ski lifts, sparse groups waited in socially distant lines. The resort felt “so dead,” said a skier, Sabrina Nottingham, partly because it was limiting ticket sales to fewer than 50 percent of the norm.

Now resorts such as Squaw Valley are setting their expectations low for the new ski season.

“I don’t think that anybody in the business is looking to have this be their best year ever,” said Ron Cohen, the president of Squaw Valley and neighboring Alpine Meadows, which laid off 2,000 seasonal workers in the spring. “We want to preserve our businesses so that when Covid’s over, we have the opportunity to not have suffered so much damage that maybe we can’t stand back up.”

Mike Pierce, a spokesman for Mount Rose Ski Tahoe, a resort in western Nevada, said the mind-set was “to just maintain status quo and survive.” He declined to provide any financials, but said, “if we break even, that’s almost considered a success.”

For smaller resorts, the pain may not be as severe. The Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village, Nev., said it came out about $1 million ahead of projections after the spring shutdown. Mike Bandelin, the resort’s general manager, said smaller resorts often operate at a loss in the final weeks of the season, so closing early actually saved money.

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