Vice president of real estate and lodging at Sugarbush Resort, Jim Westhelle, believes this ski season will be like none other in Sugarbush’s history. At a Warren Select Board meeting on November 24, Westhelle joined Margo Wade, Sugarbush's director of planning and regulatory compliance, to ask that the select board approve their proposal to put up several lighted COVID-information signs near the resort.
That night, the board granted permission to Sugarbush to use mobile signs for the 2020/2021 ski season to display COVID-related information. The signs, which will go up next to the Sugarbush Inn on the Sugarbush Access Road and near the entrance to parking lot E across from Golf Course Road, will contain a variety of COVID-related messages.
“The primary reason to have these signs is to get COVID information to the traveling public, specifically skiers and riders coming to Sugarbush,” said Wade, who said sign messages will contain both general information about the state’s quarantine requirements and Sugarbush specific information. For example, if the resort reaches capacity, that information will be reported on the signs.
“Does that mean that someone who thinks they have a pass could get stopped and told, sorry folks, it’s full right now?” asked select board chair Andrew Cunningham.
“It’s going be a completely different season than everyone’s used to,” responded Westhelle. “Everyone who’s local: I suggest going Monday through Friday. It’s not gonna be a scoot up to Super Bravo and ski all day kind of winter.” This winter, the resort plans to operate at a maximum capacity of 6,000 to 7,000 people.
Another key piece of Sugarbush-related COVID information that will be displayed on the signs is a reminder for all passholders to sign an online affidavit before they get on the lift. The affidavit asks that passholders sign to promise they will remain in compliance with all of Vermont’s most recent travel guidelines before skiing or snowboarding at the resort this winter.
If passholders do not sign this affidavit, which can be found at https://www.sugarbush.com/mountain/attestation-waivers/, they cannot get on the lift, even with a valid pass. “Everyone who has a pass at Sugarbush right now, that pass is “hot listed,” which means it’s not active until you go online and sign that form,” said Westhelle.
While emails about this lift-riding caveat already went out, Westhelle says the sign reminder is necessary. “People don’t sign up for our emails, or people don’t read their emails. We are trying to reach as many people as possible,” he said.
“The amount of work it’s going to take if 3,000 people show up at the lift without doing that (signing the affidavit), is going to cause quite an issue at the mountain,” he added. “Everyone’s been in a situation where you’ve gone up to the lift and you’re behind someone who’s pass doesn’t work. Multiply that by quite a bit.”
To help expedite the lift-loading process, Sugarbush will set up an “example gate” by the school house where the cow statue used to be. Passholders can test their passes on that example gate before attempting to ride the chairlift for real. “We’re going to try to send people there first,” said Westhelle.
While unrelated to the COVID-information signs, at the meeting, Westhelle also mentioned that Sugarbush is considering opening up some parking areas to overnight parking.
“I’m in charge of the lots. I get a lot of questions from people asking if they can use their vehicle as a base lodge and park in the lots overnight,” said Westhelle, who got a call this week from a Massachusetts resident whose wife is immunocompromised and who wants to bring his 16-foot trailer and park it in the Sugarbush parking lot over the weekend.
“We’re not open to having anyone park with such a large vehicle,” said Westhelle. “But this is something that’s becoming more popular and more expected. People are looking for a place to park overnight.”
Right now, the resort is considering letting people park overnight in the north end of upper lot G with certain restrictions. The thought is, if people want to park overnight and sleep in their vehicles, they can do so, but Sugarbush won’t provide any services and people won’t be allowed to leave anything behind.
The Warren Select Board was not in favor of this overnight parking proposal in the time of COVID.
“My first thought is, yeah I would do that, but my second thought is that’s basically creating a community. Some people are camping next to you, you meet them, you strike up a conversation and have a beer and a burger together. That’s what skiing is all about. But it would not fly in the COVID era,” said Cunningham.
As far as overnight parking at the mountain goes, Sugarbush still needs to iron out the details.