Ski Down and Mask Up — Resorts Try To Stay Safe In Pandemic Skiing Boom Ski areas are seeing record sales of season passes as people look for outdoor exercise this winter. Most are requiring masks, limiting lodge use, and making people put their boots on at their cars.
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Ski Down and Mask Up — Resorts Try To Stay Safe In Pandemic Skiing Boom

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Ski Down and Mask Up — Resorts Try To Stay Safe In Pandemic Skiing Boom

Ski Down and Mask Up — Resorts Try To Stay Safe In Pandemic Skiing Boom

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Many are eager to get outdoor exercise this COVID winter, and ski areas are figuring out how to manage the demand. Many are open but with new rules. NPR's Chris Arnold hit the slopes to see how that's working.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: This past week I was out skiing with John DeVivo. He's the general manager of Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKIS GLIDING)

JOHN DEVIVO: Nice.

ARNOLD: Yeah.

DEVIVO: Got no problem with this one.

ARNOLD: There are steep Rocky Mountain sides around us, a frozen alpine lake down below. It's beautiful and kind of a workout, but that is not stopping a guy nearly twice our age who skis by.

DEVIVO: Look at this guy. All right. That blows my mind. The guy must be 80 years old, right?

ARNOLD: Yeah, at least. He was just cruising along.

DeVivo says there's a lot of demand from skiers and snowboarders young and old who want to get out of the house and up on a mountain.

DEVIVO: Oh, yeah. I mean, we sold probably a thousand more season passes this year than we ever had. We were up about 20, 21% in past sales. Every lift ticket that we put out there does sell.

ARNOLD: DeVivo says he'd love to sell more, but to keep things COVID-safe, they've cut off any more season pass sales, and they limit daily lift tickets.

DEVIVO: I mean, this is probably one of the best things you could be doing during the winter months. But at the same time, you do want to limit the numbers because you want to have more room for everybody.

ARNOLD: There's usually plenty of room out on the mountain, but in normal years, people get jammed together in lift lines or inside lodges. So this year you have to buy tickets online in advance. That stops big lines at the ticket windows. You have to put your ski boots and gear on at your car. Basically, your car is your lodge. You have to ride the chairlift with the people that you came with, and any time you're near other people - so in the lodge, waiting in a lift line - everyone has to wear a mask or a neck gaiter. And attendants with little bullhorns will remind you if you forget.

UNIDENTIFIED ATTENDANT: Pull your mask all the way up, please - all the way up.

ARNOLD: Some ski areas have run into problems with people refusing to wear masks and being verbally abusive to the lift line attendants. Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho just shut down night skiing for a weekend, and it suspended some people's ski passes because of that. But here at Cannon, that hasn't been such a problem.

DEVIVO: Yeah. I mean, I think we've seen two instances so far in more than five weeks where we have had to ask guys to leave.

ARNOLD: DeVivo wants the COVID rules enforced so that the mountain can safely stay open. He's got upwards of 500 workers relying on him - lift operators, the restaurant workers, the drivers with the big trail grooming machines, the crews that set up the guns that fire manmade snow onto the trails.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNOW MACHINE RUNNING)

DEVIVO: We run the budget. We run the infrastructure. We run the vehicle and equipment fleet of, really, a mid-sized New Hampshire town. I mean, priority 1, of course, is public safety, and priority 1A for me is our status as a North Country employer. You know, people need to eat. They need to send their kids to school and clothe them and whatnot.

ARNOLD: Back outside the base lodge, Alyssa Sherburn is just happy to have a lift ticket and to be escaping her house and out in the fresh air.

ALYSSA SHERBURN: Oh, it's fantastic. The conditions are great. Just the process of putting on your clothing and coming up to the mountain, you take a couple of runs - it makes for a good day.

ARNOLD: Sherburn came here today with her parents, who are helping her 2 1/2-year-old toddler waddle around in a snowsuit.

SHERBURN: My parents had a snack out here on the picnic table. They were more comfortable outside - plenty of space for them out here.

ARNOLD: So as I'm standing on the trail here up near the top of Cannon, it sounds like everybody here is just hoping they can keep this and other ski areas open so people can keep getting some exercise and enjoy the outdoors. So I'm going to keep skiing.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "KONG")

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