By Olivia Del Brocco, contributing writer
Locals and dedicated Jay Peak visitors start their Friday morning waiting in lift lines, with a snowstorm on the way. Lifts start spinning at 8:30 a.m. with skiers and riders ready to get first dibs on fresh corduroy. Having never visited Jay Peak, I was excited to carve my first turns down the hill on February 5. The mountain offers a variety of terrain, from green circles to its notorious glades, some of which are marked “experts only.” A fresh dusting of snow and expansive views from the Flyer Express Quad made it feel like I was on top of the world. It is clear why Jay Peak is a favorite of locals and out-of-staters alike. Everything appears to operate as normal, but there’s more to the picture than meets the eye. Midday, I sat down with JJ Toland, director of communications, to find out more about how the resort is managing within the framework of COVID-19 pandemic guidelines.
Jay Peak faced a major change last year when the U.S./Canadian border closed in March. That loss continued through summer and fall and now into the 2021 ski season. Canadians typically constitute 50% of the resort’s business, making their disappearance a significant factor in Jay Peak’s budget planning. The lack of revenue caused by this barrier resulted in an unfortunate downsize in staffing as Jay Peak shifted from approximately 1,300 employees in early 2020 to 350 employees at present. New staffing measures require flexibility amongst employees to assist in a variety of tasks. For example, Toland described his normal role of director of communications as being supplemented by changing linens in guest rooms and restocking shelves in the resort’s retail shops and restaurants.
On the plus side, the absence of Canadian visitors allowed Jay Peak to operate without the confines of a reservation system, as some other Vermont resorts are doing. Toland said the ratio of day passholders (65%) to season passholders (35%) remains steady despite a lower guest count. He also explained package deals that Jay Peak offered to its guests throughout the summer and winter.
This summer, Jay Peak introduced a package that included lodging in a cottage from June to the end of September plus four golf passes for $2,500. Toland said the resort hoped to sell 10 packages and sold 150. Given the success of these packages, Jay Peak replicated the offer for the winter season, including 159 nights in a cottage plus two adult ski passes and two dependent passes. The goal was to sell 50 of these and 91 were sold. Packages such as these allowed guests to visit the resort while abiding by Vermont’s state guidelines on travel during COVID-19.
Après ski activities are another aspect of resort life that looks substantially different this year. Toland explained how après has changed. Clips and Reels, an indoor climbing gym and movie theater normally open to the public, has been closed until further notice. However, the resort does offer private rentals of the space for half-day time slots at a rate of $800 per family. The Pump House, the resort’s indoor water park, is operating at extremely limited capacity with just 75 guests allowed inside at once. Additionally, Jay Peak has a number of restaurants and cafés operating at limited capacity. Food and beverage spots are encouraging visitors to take their orders to go by enforcing a 30-minute time limit on indoor seating.
Regarding specific COVID-19 procedures, Jay Peak makes its commitment to safety clear. Anyone walking around the resort will see signage explaining policies, the EverClean sanitary stations and the designated wellness ambassadors (noticeable via their bright orange vests) who roam the crowds, ensuring compliance with mask requirements and other policies. Staying overnight in a hotel felt strange, especially after nine months without traveling. But Jay Peak employees made it feel safe and easy. The most interaction with staff occurred during check-in, when an employee places all necessary materials (room key, parking pass, resort map, etc.) in a packet before handing everything over at once, limiting physical proximity. Guests must sign an attestation form, similar to other Vermont resorts, agreeing to follow Vermont state travel guidelines. The attestation dually serves as contact tracing information. Lodging areas are “rested” for 48 hours before being turned over for the next visitor.
Outdoors, it is slightly easier to remain socially distanced. Lift lines function via radio-frequency identification (RFID) cards, eliminating the need for proximity between lift operators and guests. Signs indicate that skiers and riders should load with members from their own pod. However, single skiers and riders are permitted to load quads two at a time. Masks are required to cover both one’s mouth and nose while in all base and lift areas of the resort.
Toland said that, to date, Jay Peak has not experienced any COVID-19 cases amongst its guests or staff. He emphasized the lengths Jay Peak is going to in order to ensure guest and staff safety. His perspective is one of optimism and commitment “The very nature of our industry favors those who can think on their feet -- so to be served up a pandemic -- we’ve survived bad winters before. We can survive this. Past that, it’s just checking in with the woman on your left, the guy on your right, saying ‘Are you alright?’”