California releases COVID guidelines for ski resorts

Skiers and snowboarders will have to plan ahead as new public health guidance for ski operators prohibits day-of lift tickets as coronavirus cases surge in the Golden State. Photo: Vail Resorts

California public health officials released COVID-19 guidelines Tuesday evening for ski resorts and capacity must be limited to operate.

The new guidance offered a few measures to implement, like getting rid of day-of lift tickets. They're suggesting that ski operators require customers to have a valid, pre-purchased lift ticket, season pass, or advanced ticket reservation. Resorts should also require guests to purchase a parking pass when buying lift tickets and limited parking lots to lift pass holders only. 

Under the new guidance, ski resorts are allowed to operate in any tier of the state’s coronavirus blueprint, so long as the businesses initiate specific modifications. The counties with most of the state's ski resorts -- Nevada, El Dorado, Placer and Mono -- are were in the purple tier as of Wednesday.

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 “All of our resorts have been diligently working since March to ensure their operations can adhere to ever-changing public health and safety requirements,” Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California, said in an earlier release. “Some procedures will vary by resort, but all resorts are aligned in their desire to have a full ski season.”

The new rules come as some California resorts are already up and running. Vail Resorts opened two of their three resorts -- Heavenly and Northstar -- on Nov. 20 as the first two in the area, but lifts are only available for pass holders through December 7. After that, you must make a reservation in advance if you want to ski. 

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows welcomed pass holders only over the holiday weekend. Kirkwood, also a Vail resort, opens on Friday with the same reservation system and emphasis on comprehensive safety protocols. 

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Skiing or snowboarding on their own is not a major risk of virus transmission. You do it outdoors with constant airflow in a wide-open space. The places where people gather, however, are what health officials are concerned with. Some of the state’s new rules include guidance for navigating chair lifts, gondolas and enclosed carrier units. 

Signs will be posted directing people to properly social distance while waiting in lines and all queuing will be performed outside. Also, as a general rule, workers are told to avoid physically assisting or lifting guests. They should ask a household member to help if someone needs assistance, according to the state.  

To enhance the public’s safety, California resorts have invested millions of dollars into new technologies and sanitation procedures designed to encourage physical distance and reduce points of contact. As for ski lessons, resorts are instructed to follow state and local policies on youth and adult sports to determine if they can be safely held.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that day-of lift tickets are not allowed at California ski resorts under new state guidelines. Day-of tickets are allowed, but must be limited to ensure capacity is reduced.

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This story was reported from Oakland.