Despite restrictions, Snow Bowl stays positive heading into winter

By Florence Wu

The Middlebury Snow Bowl opened this week without limitations on the number of skiers but with substantial changes to base camp operations. (Benjy Renton)

Because skiers almost always wear face masks to keep safe and warm, skiing seems like the natural social distancing sport. The Middlebury Snow Bowl is scheduled to open on Dec. 2 and will be open weekly Wednesday through Sunday; Rikert Nordic Center will be open seven days a week. 

While the skiing will very much be the same, Snow Bowl Director Mike Hussey says the ski area’s base camp operations have undergone substantial changes. To protect the safety of its staff and visitors, the Bowl will restrict indoor access, adopt takeaway food services and impose social distancing requirements for lifts. 

A reservation will be required for entry to all Bowl facilities for the sake of contact tracing, and the ski lodge will only be open for restroom access, grab-and-go food and rental services. Customers are required to wear masks, sanitize their hands and follow all indoor social-distancing protocols. Eating, resting and gathering must be done either in skiers’ vehicles or outside.

The Bowl will not be limiting the number of skiers and riders on the mountain for now, according to Hussey. However, if a limit has to be imposed, season pass holders will be prioritized over day pass holders. 

“We want the season pass holders to get as much value out of their passes as possible,” Hussey said.

To minimize personal contact, lift passes, rentals and snow school lessons must also be pre-booked online. 

Because all Middlebury student operations will be remote for the winter term, there will be no J-Term ski classes or school group programs this season. The Bowl typically hires a substantial number of student ski patrols and instructors from Middlebury, so Hussey said that staffing will be tight over J-Term due to the student absence. He looks forward to welcoming the students back in March. 

Due to the absence of students on campus, the Bowl will also be offering additional positions to the college’s dining service staff. The positions span across various areas including front desk work, snowmaking or wherever their skills can be best employed according to Hussey. 

“[The positions] were offered to them as something to do over J-Term, and about a dozen of them accepted,” Hussey said. “It’s cool because those folks want to be up here. They are not mandated to come up.”

Overall, Hussey has a positive outlook on the upcoming season despite the pandemic and a possible state-wide lockdown. 

“As a small local mountain, we can easily survive on Vermont skiers only. In fact, if the bigger resorts end up having to close down, we might even have to turn people away,” Hussey said.