Arizona Snowbowl has had to adapt in the wake of COVID-19, just as most other businesses. These changes could prove to be very beneficial during the pandemic, but the fear of a potential nationwide closure looms. Snowbowl is implementing new practices to ensure guests and employees stay healthy throughout the duration of the season, which is moving forward as scheduled.
Snowbowl has implemented specific guidelines on how the resort will be operating this season. These guidelines include a new lift policy, requiring masks, limiting the amount of guests allowed in at once, new cleaning and sanitizing procedures and for this upcoming winter season, all ticket sales will be completed online to minimize contact between guests and Snowbowl staff.
Junior Conner Wesson, a Flagstaff local and Snowbowl season pass holder of 18 years, said he is looking forward to the season on the mountain. He said it is one of his favorite times of the year as a Flagstaff native.
“I feel comfortable buying a season pass,” Wesson said. “With the proper guidelines, I see no reason why Snowbowl shouldn’t be able to have a full ski season.”
Wesson has experienced many changes at Snowbowl. His family has been in Flagstaff for more than 20 years and Snowbowl has changed many times in the last eight years alone. This includes new ownerships, new runs, the making of snow and now, a state-of-the-art lift. With all these improvements, Snowbowl is no longer a small-town ski resort, but a resort people can use from all over the southwest region. According to Snowbowl’s website, it has partnerships with many other resorts, such as Colorado’s Purgatory Resort and New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley Resort to name a few.
Many guests are concerned about the risk that comes with purchasing a season pass due to the fear of closure because of COVID-19, Wesson said. Now with infection rates rising in Europe and the United States, a second global wave is a concern that many world health professionals have voiced.
Wesson also said he agrees with the new safety guidelines and as long as he can have a full season, he is all for it.
Snowbowl employee Sarah Plassman witnessed firsthand how the resort responded to the pandemic last season.
“I am comfortable with the new guidelines,” Plassman said. “Most people already wear face coverings on the mountain anyway, but I am concerned that if I purchased a season pass the resort would shut down due to COVID-19.”
With the many changes this season, Snowbowl has found a way to keep everyone safe. Wesson says he does not wish to havea repeat of last season's closures.
Over the summer, Snowbowl was in the process of developing a new high-speed chairlift, one of only six in the country, which they have dubbed the High-Speed Arizona Gondola. It will travel up the mountain in seven minutes, less than half the time of the previous lift, and is a combination of six-person chairs and eight-person gondola cabins.
“I am excited for the new lift, I have waited years,” Plassman said. “It was very exciting watching them start the construction on the lift at the end of last season.”
Nicole Kische, a ski instructor in the Snowbowl Adaptive Program, said she is excited for the new lift.
“The Agassiz lift was old and outdated,” Kische said. “I think having a new high-speed lift that is more reliable is going to be huge for those who want to access the side of the mountain. This will help clear up some of the lift lines on busy days.”
With the expectation of indoor rules at Snowbowl this season, Kische said visitors will need to focus on the outdoor aspect of the sport and not the social aspect of it.
Kische, being a seasoned skier and veteran teacher at Snowbowl, knows the large amount of visitors the mountain gets each day, and the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak large crowds face. She said she is not the one that orchestrates the rules that keep everyone safe, but can ensure Snowbowl is doing everything it can to make the ski park a safe environment this season.
Snowbowl has simply stated their new guidelines and did not include how the new lift procedure will operate despite the High-Speed Arizona Gondola being set to open Nov. 20. This is likely the most important aspect of the guidelines this season. Those who are excited about the lift and its new guidelines will have to wait and see how Snowbowl will ensure the lowest probability of infection possible.
Snowbowl has not made any statements regarding closure of any aspect of the resort yet this season. Snowbowl’s restaurant is open and the lodge and rental shop will be open for operation at the start of winter operation.
“One thing I believe will be changing is either restrictions or limiting the use of locker rooms, as well as dining areas, to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Kische said. “We are all still excited for a great season of snow up on the hill.”