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Vail Resorts CEO talks about social distancing for ski season at Park City Mountain

Park City Mountain Resort is making preparations for a socially distanced ski season this year. (Photo: Getty Images)

PARK CITY, Utah — While the ski season locally is still months away, industry leaders are already busy at work coming up with a COVID-19 gameplan. That means with new social distancing concerns, the skiing experience at Park City Mountain could be noticeable different this year. Rob Katz, the CEO of Colorado-based Vail Resorts, recently discussed the topic with Wall Street analysts. He says a specific plan for Park City Mountain Resort, which is owned by Vail, isn’t in place yet. Instead, they’re going to keep an eye on other areas of the world.

Aussie experiment

Locally, the 2020-2021 ski season is scheduled to start in November. Although, that “start date” is different all over the world. For example, the ski season is set to start shortly in Australia and other Southern Hemisphere destinations. Katz says their team is planning to use Vail properties in Australia to gain greater insight for best practices at their North American locations.

“That will give us some very unique insight that we’ll be able to use as we plan the North American ski season next year,” he explains.

He adds that skiers and snowboarders are able to spread out fairly organically on the slopes, so that’s not the main concern. Rather, Vail is focusing on what they describe as “pinch points.” 

“Inside of our restaurants, in lift lines and certainly as people enter the resort,” says Katz.

That’s where some of their Southern Hemisphere resorts will become all the more valuable. It’s an opportunity, perhaps by trial-and-error, to see what works well and what doesn’t.

“Our job will be to make sure that we can maintain social distancing while still giving people a great experience,” explains Katz.

Vail Resorts setting a max capacity?

The Park Record notes that he also made mention of possible constraints to the number of people at a mountain resort at any one time. Although, that may also fall into the “wait-and-see” category since it’s still unclear what sort of travel demand there will be during ski season. If coronavirus concerns remain top of mind for a large percentage of people, that could mean a drop in skier and snowboarder numbers and also lessen the impact of any possible constraints.

I think the two places that, you know, we’re certainly well aware of potential capacity constraints: one is on loading lifts and gondolas and to the extent that, you know, you’re maintaining social distancing between unrelated groups, right, that could limit the number of people, you know, that you can put on a chair, put on a gondola at any one time. And that’s certainly something that, you know, will likely be a part of the plan in Australia. Unclear whether that will still be necessary next winter season, but that’s one, you know, potential constraint,” – Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts.

Vail leaders are also saying that with the possibility of new guidelines and restrictions, they are “not going to pull back at all on what guests would expect when they come to one of [their] resorts.”