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N.H. Ski Areas Try To Balance Pent-up Demand With COVID-19 Guidance, Social Distancing

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Ski areas are readying for a winter season with renewed skier interest amid new COVID-19 precautions, including reduced lodge capacity and the potential for restricted lift ticket sales on busy days.

Resorts have made several notable changes to operate while abiding by the state’s N.H. ski area guidance.

The adaptations are designed to avoid crowd pinch points, says Kris Blomback, general manager of Pat’s Peak Ski Area in Henniker.

“We all have this shared responsibility to try to do things to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” he says. “Patience and kindness are going to be the name of the game this year.”

Skiers will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing. And the state guidance recommends pre-purchase of lift tickets - and many mountain resorts are requiring advance reservations and online sales. Some of the social distancing was being observed when New Hampshire ski areas abruptly closed last March, a week after the state and federal emergencies were declared. 

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Greg Keeler, director of sales and marketing at CannonMountain, says they’re launching an online store where skiers will be required to buy lift tickets in advance.

It’s all part of a “Know Before You Go” effort to inform skiers to be prepared for social distancing and limited lodge capacity - no bags left inside - and skiers are encouraged to get ready at their cars.

“We’re around 700 passes up over last year, and last year was a record number of passes,” he said. “So, in order to keep a comfortable number of people here on any given day we stopped selling passes and we will also be limiting ticket sales, especially on weekends, just so we can manage the number of people who are here.”

"Patience and kindness are going to be the name of the game this year." - Kris Blomback, Pat's Peak

The ski area guidance anticipates longer lift lines due to social distancing.

Jessyca Keeler, president of Ski NH, a ski area trade association, recommends skiers and riders check with the ski areas before their trip.

Even with new restrictions, or perhaps because of them, ski areas are reporting strong pass sales, influenced in part by the possibility for day tickets to be restricted on busier days. It’s also seen as a carry-over of the growing interest in outdoor recreation during the pandemic.

“The biggest thing that we’re trying to tell people is the ‘‘Know Before You Go’ message,” Keeler says. “Have a plan. Make sure you do your homework before you leave your house .. there may be limitations on tickets. You may not be able to buy a ticket at a ski area when you get there on that powder day.”

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At Pat’s Peak, the guidance from the state means that Blomback and team are trying to migrate as many operations as possible from inside to the outside.

Pat’s Peak is gearing up for limited lodge operations. It’s added about 400 seats outside. There will be little ice igloos and cabanas to serve as wind breakers - and some propane heaters on the decks.

Blomback says the message to visitors this winter is: Your car is going to be your own personal base lodge.

A mild early November led to most ski areas delaying their opening days. Bretton Woods is now open (it's closed Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 due to weather, however), and several mountains — including Attitash, Cannon, Cranmore, Ragged and Waterville Valley — plan to open Dec. 4-5.

Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.

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