Few states have been as successful in a coronavirus pandemic as Vermont, where the combination of aggressive shutdown and deliberate slow reopening has resulted in much lower morbidity and mortality than neighboring states. .
But now it’s the ski season.
Vermont’s economy depends on reopening its vital tourism this winter, though that would mean allowing skiers from the virus-ravaged states.
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The state remains an exception in its success against the virus, although cases have increased in recent days. Vermont̵7;s COVID-19 death toll remained at 58, the lowest of any state. It has not recorded a single death from the disease since August 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
How to reopen safely is a costly challenge for government officials, ski resort managers and the scores of other businesses whose livelihoods depend on tourism winter.
“Can it be pulled out as successfully and safely as possible?” Says Adam White, communications director for the Vermont Ski Resorts Association. “That’s the 1.6 billion dollar question.”
At Bolton Valley Resort, about 30 minutes from Burlington, staff are working to re-adjust everything from ski rental to lift ticket sales to reduce direct contact between skiers and staff and Move the activity to the outdoors.
The family-owned resort, which closed the hotel in the summer when sales fell sharply, spent more than $ 100,000 on technology upgrades to allow more, said Lindsay DesLauriers, the resort’s president, to allow more more online transactions. Bolton Valley aims to sell 90% of elevator tickets online this season, compared with 30% last year.
“It really forced us to act like the big man,” DesLauriers says of the investments. “But it is necessary. We can’t have any more lines. We can’t let everyone gather inside anymore ”.
The big guys are getting hurt too. Vail Resorts Inc., which owns ski resorts across the country, including Stowe, Okemo and Mount Snow in Vermont, reported a net income of $ 98.8 million in fiscal 2020, down more than 67 percent. compared with a year earlier. In May, the company issued a debt of $ 600 million. Vail has enough cash to fund activities during the 2021-22 ski season “even in the event of extended downturns,” the company’s chief financial officer told investors. in September.
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The ski resorts are also trying to prepare their guests for strict state health procedures. Similar to resorts in other states, ski resorts will require indoor and outdoor masking and prohibit sharing of elevator seats with strangers.
Vermont has also imposed quarantine requirements on tourists arriving, which vary based on a number of factors, including the rate of infection in the visitor’s home county and the mode of their transportation. into Vermont.
The state has received hundreds of thousands of hits on its color-coded online travel map, which advises foreign travelers on the precautions they will have to take, says Ted Brady, deputy Secretary of the Agency for Trade and Community Development.
The map now shows a red sea over much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, where infections have grown by over 800 per million residents.
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White said he receives two dozen calls a week from skiers asking if the travel limits are real and complains about the inconvenience.
“But the answer is we want a season,” he said, “And we want to keep not only the guests as healthy as possible, but the staff at the ski resorts. Vermont does not have a large-scale health system to handle a large-scale outbreak. Anything like an outbreak here can be catastrophic. “
From September 1 to November 4, the total number of confirmed cases in Vermont increased by more than 38 percent, to 2,267. The average daily increase in new coronavirus cases in Vermont has remained unchanged over the past seven days compared to the past two weeks, but in most other states this rate is increasing – an indication that infection is growing. increase.
State officials and business people like DesLauriers expect travel restrictions and virus concerns, which will seriously affect hotels and food and drink services – especially ski motels and bars Ski bars and restaurants where traditional end-of-day conveyor operations are prohibited to prevent viral outbreaks.
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“There is no way to give a good result for accommodations and meals this year,” says DesLauriers. “I hope I’ve been proven wrong.”
Demand for elevator tickets at resorts, large and small in the state, has led industry leaders to expect an increase in skiers on the slopes. Mad River Glen halted seasonal sales this fall due to increased demand. Vail reported an 18% increase in season tickets sold through mid-September, despite a drop in sales as skiers swapped credits for the shortened season last year.
Andy Kingston and his wife own the Alpine Shop, a popular outdoor goods store in South Burlington that saw a 50% drop in sales as businesses closed in March, the weak weeks of the season. last year.
“We’re used to uncertainty – it’s part of our DNA, but the conversations that led earlier this season were not about ice, but about potential outbreaks,” said Mr. Kingston. “I can’t remember in the past four or five months anyone wanted to know what the snow would be like. And that’s usually the first thing we talk about. “
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