By Stephen Leon
On March 15, 2020, a hush fell over the Adirondack Mountains as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, which effectively ended the ski season several weeks early. Seven months later, on Oct. 18, he announced that ski areas could open back up for the approaching winter season—with strict guidelines.
The guidelines, and the pandemic itself, have affected Adirondack resorts in mostly similar ways, with some variations. Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne, which runs an adaptive winter sports program for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses, concluded there was no safe choice but to close for the 2020-21 season. The operators of Titus Mountain in Malone are scrambling to replace lost revenue from Canadian skiers, who make up 60% of the resort’s usual customer base but will not be able to cross the border under current restrictions. Meanwhile, Gore Mountain in North Creek reports “tremendous” advance sales of season passes, up 17% from this time last year.
The New York State governor’s website has a complete list of the guidelines for ski facilities issued in October. Here is a summary of some key points:
- Resort visitors must sign in, either upon arrival or via remote check-in, to provide information for contact tracing.
- Visitors and staff must maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet, except from persons in their own party.
- Patrons and staff must wear appropriate face coverings, except while actively skiing/snowboarding/snowshoeing, or while seated and eating or drinking.
- The facility must limit capacity inside lodges, warming areas, and bathrooms to 50%, and restrict capacity of outdoor areas on its traditionally busiest days to no more than 75%, to make social distancing possible.
- Facilities are encouraged to creatively expand available lodge space, such as new or temporary structures, heated patios, etc.
- Skiers should arrive as “ready to go” as possible to avoid spending unnecessary time in locker rooms or outdoor seating areas.
- Skiers who traveled to the mountain together can ride lifts together. Otherwise, singles can be loaded on opposite ends of a lift with four or more seats, or can request to ride alone. Any windows on gondolas should be left open.
- In order to manage and track capacity limits, and to limit unnecessary contact on-site, facilities must ensure that patrons are able to purchase tickets in advance via systems implemented by the facility such as online portals, mobile apps, call-ahead, mail order, etc.
- Group lessons are restricted to 10 adults or six children (exclusive of instructor), who must have completed a daily health screening.
- Facilities must follow enhanced cleaning and sanitizing guidelines, and close unsafe amenities such as whirlpools, saunas, communal showers, self-serve food and bar areas, etc.
Most ski areas are offering season-pass rollovers for pass holders who decide not to ski this season because of the pandemic, and closure credits for next season in the event of any necessary closures this season. Check with individual resorts.
Here’s what’s happening at some notable outdoor-sports resorts in the Adirondacks:
Dewey Mountain Recreation Center
Harrietstown, (518) 891-2697, deweymountain.com
The most significant change for cross-country skiers and snowshoers at Dewey Mountain is that they will not have access to the lodge, at least for now. “We will be asking people to come prepared to ski,” says Jason Smith, owner of Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters in Saranac Lake and manager of the center. There will be outside spaces for a quick change of footwear, he says. “We’re going to start out that way and see how it goes; our focus is on having the trails open for skiing and snowshoeing.”
Dewey Mountain offers season and day passes, but does not have a portal set up for online buying. Smith has no numbers yet, but says he anticipates a “really good season-pass year.”
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Double H Ranch
Lake Luzerne, (518) 696-5676, doublehranch.org
On Oct. 27, Double H Ranch CEO and Executive Director Max Yurenda announced “the difficult decision to suspend our on-site Adaptive Winter Sports Program for the 2021 season.”
“Under the advisement of our Medical Advisory Board with input from our year-round team, and review by our Board of Directors, it was determined that the risk is too great to offer on-site programs at this time.”
Established in 1998, the Double H Ranch program offers children ages 6-16 with chronic and life-threatening illnesses the opportunity to participate in various winter sports free of change, with necessary equipment provided.
Garnet Hill Outdoor Center
North Creek, (518) 251-2150, garnet-hill.com/outdoor-center
The good news for cross-country skiers and snowshoers is that the Garnet Hill Outdoor Center’s 55-kilometer groomed trail network will be open this year as usual. In addition, the property borders the state-owned Siamese Pond Wilderness, where serious skiers can connect directly to ungroomed back-country trails.
However, the Outdoor Center is not operating at full capacity; the center building itself will not be open to the public, except for equipment purchases with appointments booked in advance. The Bobcat Lounge on the second floor is closed. Shuttle-bus service from the Rogers Road pick-up to the Outdoor Center will not be running this year. And lessons will be restricted to individuals or groups of five or fewer who are traveling in the same party.
Like many facilities, Garnet Hill is asking day-trippers to come ready to ski and to base operations out of their cars. Fire pits and the Sugarhouse Warming Hut will be operating, and food will be served in the Garnet Hill Lodge, which is also open for overnight accommodations.
Garnet Hill is reducing the price of season passes in acknowledgement that not all facilities are open (with a further discount if purchased by Nov. 30). Skiers can also save on day passes by purchasing advance online; though tickets and equipment rentals can by purchased at windows at the center, manager Michele Pearsall strongly recommends buying or reserving them online.
Pearsall is encouraged by early activity in season-pass sales. When people buy through the online system, she says, “we can tell if they are new customers or not. I’m seeing quite a few of these.”
North Creek, (518) 251-2411, goremountain.com
After losing as many as six weeks of skiing last spring, Gore General Manager James “Bone” Bayse is hoping to rebound this year, and a 17% increase in season-pass sales thus far bodes well.
“It’s just speculation,” Bayse says, “but I would say that it’s a combination of a couple of items. People are seeking out outdoor activities. I don’t think a lot of people want to travel out west this winter—there’s uncertainty with that, and there’s even uncertainty with traveling into neighboring states.” Unlike sparsely populated Vermont, whose ski industry relies heavily on people coming from other states, “we can do pretty well with the residents from inside the state.”
As one of the state’s larger operations, Gore is able to use most of its facilities with capacity reductions. Drop-off areas have been expanded, and shuttles will run. Seasonal and day-use lockers are available, though skiers are encouraged to arrive as ready as possible and not to be indoors for long. The lodges are open at 50% capacity and serving food and beverages, patrons are requested to be inside no more than 30 minutes, and to use off-peak times when possible.
According to the website, advanced purchase online is required for all lift tickets, lessons and rentals, as their availability at the mountain is not guaranteed due to capacity restrictions.
Like most ski areas surveyed, Gore Mountain will not offer child care this season; parents of young children are asked to check the website for snow sports programs.
As for the possibility that the pandemic might either worsen or ease, Bayse says he is ready. “We certainly hope that things don’t get worse. We’re prepared if we have to have even greater restrictions than we have currently. We’re also prepared for change in either direction.”
McCauley Mountain Ski Area
Old Forge, (315) 369-3225, mccauleyny.com
“I think we’re positioned really well,” McCauley Mountain publicity director Mike Farmer says. With restricted travel from many places outside the state, “we are blessed geographically,” as the mountain’s major market is the Central New York corridor all the way to Rochester. On top of that, he says, many people who came to shelter at the beginning of COVID, both second-homeowners and renters, have not left.
The chalet, with restrooms and the ski shop downstairs and the restaurant upstairs, will be open, but Farmer adds that “we’re encouraging parking-lot picnics, even if they do takeout from the restaurant in the chalet.”
Farmer says McCauley has an innovative sign-in system for contact tracing that uses a smartphone dedicated to that process. The facility does not have the capacity to do all-online ticketing, but has outsourced some of that to Liftopia. They are encouraging skiers to follow them on social media in case they anticipate having to close ticket sales due to capacity.
McCauley offers skiing, snowboarding, and 15 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails. And with people’s renewed desire for outdoor exercise coupled with restricted travel outside the state, Farmer is expecting a “surge” in cross-country skiing.
Mount Van Hoevenberg
Lake Placid, (518) 523-2811, mtvanhoevenberg.com
At Mount Van Hoevenberg, the Nordic Center and Sliding Center and most related amenities will be open at mandated capacity limits. As a facility run by the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, Mount Van Hoevenberg adheres to much the same guidelines as Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain, also ORDA facilities.
Advanced purchase online is required for all tickets, attractions, activities, lessons, programs and rentals, as the availability of tickets on-site not guaranteed.
Like many other ski areas, Mount Van Hoevenberg asks that you arrive as ready-to-go as possible to avoid unnecessary indoor time. Indoor storage space is limited this year.
On order to spread out the patrons use of the indoor food and beverage locations, the facility is encouraging off-peak use and serving daily specials in off-peak hours. Individuals who bring their own food can use our outdoor spaces.
There will be a phased opening for lessons and programs; check the website. Child care will not be offered this season.
Speculator, (518) 548-3606, oakmountainski.com
According to its website, Oak Mountain is eliminating walk-up ticket purchasing at the lodge; tickets will be available online only. Due to capacity restrictions at the mountain, inventory will be limited on any given day. Management asks you to purchase in advance to guarantee your day; your day ticket will be provided upon check-in at the new outdoor ticket window located at the rental lodge. Season-pass holders will get unlimited access to the mountain, but they will need to reserve their ticket online as well. Rentals and lessons also must be booked online.
With indoor space limited, Oak Mountain is encouraging guests to help out by getting ready at their cars, going straight to the lift, and, where possible, avoiding the lodges entirely, even making your car a mini base lodge with snacks to refuel throughout the day. The lodge will be open at 50% capacity, but there also will be a new takeout window with online ordering, grab-and-go snacks at the top of the chairlift, and a Campstore food truck serving treats in the parking lot.
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Titus Mountain Family Ski Center
Malone, (518) 483-3740, titusmountain.com
At Titus Mountain, the statewide closure last March 15 was especially painful—the annual Mountain Madness festival was to be held one week later. “It’s one of our biggest weekends of the year, by far,” says Titus brand ambassador Bruce Monette III.
Most of the ticketing for Titus is online, but there is in-person ticketing available though new kiosks at the mountain.
While Monette does not yet have a sense of how season-pass sales are going, he does note that “about 60% of our occupants come over from Canada,” and with the current restriction on cross-border travel, Titus will roll over any passes Canadians have already bought to next season.
Obviously, the loss of Canadian skiers will hurt, but Monette is confident that Titus can attract more in-state visitors, who cannot, for example, go to Vermont.
“It’s a different year for everyone,” he says. “We still see it as being a good year, and maintain a positive look ahead.”
Queensbury, (518) 636-3699, westmountain.com
According to the West Mountain website, the resort will be operating this season under the New York State guidelines, with an emphasis on encouraging guests to visit during non-holiday weekdays to spread themselves out. And to help promote off-peak skiing, West Mountain is offering breakfast and lunch specials on those days.
The resort does not anticipate requiring daily reservations for season-pass holders, but day skiing and tubing tickets, rentals, lessons, etc. should purchased online in advance to guarantee access. Parking areas have been expanded, and guests are requested to gear up as much as possible at their vehicles.
The main lodge will be open and operating under state guidelines; new this year is a take-out window at the lodge, offering burgers, sandwiches, soups and more prepared in-house daily for outdoor enjoyment.
West Mountain will be offering lessons, programs, and rentals this season, as well as alpine racing and training; due to capacity restrictions, the locker room will not be available until further notice.
Wilmington, (518) 946-2223, whiteface.com
Whiteface, another large ORDA-run facility, will operate this season under state guidelines, with plans to open Dec. 4. According to ORDA spokeswoman Elise Ruocco, “We are ahead on ticket sales compared to last year. That could be because we are encouraging people to pre-purchase tickets online. The mountain cannot guarantee that you will be able to ski without a pre-purchased ticket.”
As with Gore and many other resorts, Whiteface is offering closure credits for shutdown days and rollover credits to 2021-22 if requested by Dec. 1.
Greenwich, (518) 692-7337, willardmountain.com
According to the website, Willard’s outdoor operations will be relatively “business as usual, as face coverings, goggles and gloves are already standard equipment for skiers and riders, thus making a smooth transition into the upcoming season.” Inside operations, per state guidelines, “will be impacted by social distancing practices.”
The website also points out that the two chairlifts and the handle tow already have social distancing built in, and that no one will have to pair up if they are not comfortable doing so.
If skiers are unable to use their season passes for medical reasons, or if the state requires closure at any point, Willard will roll over credit to the 2021-22 season. “The management at Willard has always considered its customers as family, and your well-being is our priority, in health and safety as well as instilling confidence in your pass purchases.”