By John Finefrock
Wolf Creek Ski Area (WCSA) is seeking public input to plan for reopening next winter amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
WCSA sent an online survey to about 40,000 people in its database which is also available on the ski area’s website.
As of Wednesday, about 3,200 people had responded.
“We are taking a survey to find out how our customers are feeling about coming back to ski and what they can expect and the products that we can offer them,” said Rosanne Pitcher, vice president of marketing and sales at WCSA.
“We’re gonna make the assumption that we have a season without resolution to the COVID-19 problem,” said WCSA President and CEO Davey Pitcher in a phone call Tuesday, adding, “We’d like to come up with a program — even if it’s requiring us to go to a reduced capacity, not only in our restaurants, but on the mountain — and have something that’s less stressful for the community and a little easier for everybody to get their head around.”
“What happens is that over Christmas, we have this huge influx of people,” Rosanne Pitcher said. “So, we’re trying to set up a reservation system so people can be planning ahead. Some people may wanna plan their vacation earlier than over the Christmas period and an incentive would be some pricing. We have never before gone up in our pricing in our holiday periods, but because of what’s happening [with COVID] and to try and control the number of people up here, we may have to raise our prices over the holiday periods.”
She commented on results of the survey thus far.
“We were kinda surprised about how many people really want to ski over the holidays and weekends,” she said. “So, we’re going to have some incentive to spread people out and we probably are going to have to push the price up over the holidays because it’s a much better experience anyhow when you have to deal with less people. But the problem is everyone has off at the same time.”
On a series of questions on the survey related to “Limiting Visitation Density,” the specifics regarding capacity at WCSA are addressed.
“Our analysis shows that the capacity of WCSA is about 6,000 skiers per day (inclusive of parking and other facilities). Data from the years 2015 through 2020 indicate that this level is approached only during a few peak periods, typically around Christmas and the New Year (Dec. 20 through Jan. 3) and the spring break in mid-March … WCSA is considering limiting visitation throughout the 2020-21 season to one-half the full capacity or 3,000 skiers/boarders per day. This level of use would provide ample space to maintain social distancing and create an uncrowded environment that most skiers/boarders would appreciate.”
Rosanne Pitcher added that one idea is to create a “loyalty pass” for previous season pass holders.
“Anyone who had a pass from the previous year will be able to get a small discount. I think we’ll be able to do that,” she said, adding, “We just haven’t set any pricing yet because we’re waiting for the results of the survey.”
Some of the questions on the survey are:
• “How likely are you to purchase a season pass or pass product that is not valid during peak periods?”
• “Would you be willing to purchase insurance for your pass in case of an early closure?”
• “Please rate your level of enthusiasm about limiting visitation and instituting a reservation system: 1 being lowest, 5 being highest.”
• “Are you more likely to ski during a non-peak period if ticket prices were offered at a reduced rate?”
• “Would you be willing to refrain from removing your gloves, blowing your nose, etc. until you have exited the lift and are social distanced from all others?”
• “If after arrival to Colorado you or someone in your group were to start exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, would you be willing to cancel your trip and head home early?”
“We’re anxious to get this data in from everybody,” Davey Pitcher said. “We wanted everyone to have an opportunity to give us their input and comments and get a sense of what the community sees as appropriate, and hopefully, we can have some meaningful conversations with the state and provide a template for a winter that provides winter recreation and helps people get through the winter without a lockdown that doesn’t allow for recreation.”
He added that another idea being considered is to move the typical 8:30 a.m. opening time to 8 a.m.
Davey Pitcher also commented on some new modern technology that WCSA has bought to help clean the facility.
“[We’re using] chlorine dioxide,” he said. “What it is is an electrostatic machine that creates an ionized — it comes out as a kind of a spray/fog and it’s ionized, so it wants to bond to surfaces. It has a negative charge and all surfaces are positive charges. It wants to go underneath tables, it wants to make contact with the surface and it dries odorless and tasteless … Once it dries, it loses one oxygen molecule and becomes less toxic to humans and we understand the cleaning procedures for the bathrooms are going to have to be very rigorous and by the book and probably every hour.”
How local ski shops are planning for winter
Dan Park, co-owner of Alpen Haus Ski Center, commented on how he’s preparing for the upcoming ski season, even with lack of information about what exactly to expect.
“There’s not any direction coming right now out of the industry,” he said. “There’s no talk really of what’s coming. I think that Wolf Creek is doing a good job by putting out the survey and the complete nature of the questions that they’re asking — they’ve really put a lot of thought into how they would run people through the resort as evidenced by some of their questions.”
He added, “As far as our approach to it … it’s kind of in a state of limbo, at this point. We’re in July, it’s no longer something that you can be in denial about. When [COVID] first happened in March, we all thought things would iron out, perhaps. [Now], it’s more and more evident that we have to be proactive and start deciding what it is we’re going to do.”
Park relayed a story about Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, located near Breckenridge, and how it implemented social distancing measures when opening late in the ski season this year.
He said it allowed just one person per ski lift chair to ensure social distancing, and when folks skied their run, they felt like they had the whole mountain to themselves.
He noted that when they got back down the hill, they had to wait an hour and a half in the lift line, and cautioned it probably wasn’t the best experience for skiers and boarders, and wouldn’t recommend that for Wolf Creek.
Matt Yoksh, who runs Pagosa Ski Rentals, explained he’s awaiting Wolf Creek’s opening plan to see if how, if at all, he’ll tweak his business for the upcoming season.
Bruno Peterson, who coordinates ski rentals for Ski and Bow Rack, was not available for comment on this story.
Any members of the public who wish to take WCSA’s survey can go to wolfcreekski.com and click the link toward the bottom of the page. The survey will be open until Aug. 7.