It was just after 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 6, when I arrived at the mountain. I wasn’t alone. As the cloud-blotted sun threatened to dip behind the trees, hordes of skiers trudged towards Bolton Valley’s outdoor ticket pick-up machines to get ready for an evening of night skiing, self-printed paper receipts fluttering in their mitten-bound hands. “We installed pick-up boxes so you can just scan the QR code from your receipt and it will just spit the ticket out,” said Bolton Valley president and co-owner Lindsay DesLauriers. “We are encoring people to not even wait in line at the outside window to get their tickets if they can avoid it.”
After picking up my ticket, I inched through the ghost-line divided Vista Quad lift line designed to keep skiers 6 feet apart. Signs posted around the lines said, “Face Coverings over Mouth AND Nose!” and, “Riding solo? Pair up with another single and ride on opposite sides of the chair!”
REINVENTED SKIING EXPERIENCE
Since the pandemic started, Bolton Valley has completely reinvented the mountainside skiing experience. Like other ski resorts, Bolton Valley has implemented ghost lines, face covering requirements, base lodge capacity limits, contact tracing strategies, lift ticket limits and daily health checks for its employees.
Bolton already has the only lift-served backcountry skiing in Vermont, but this year, the resort upped its backcountry game by purchasing 60 sets of backcountry gear and leasing every single one of them. The resort is also offering guided backcountry clinics and is teaching people to climb and skin up hill.
For downhill and backcountry skiers/riders, Bolton Valley has also taken extra steps to keep passholders outside as much as possible. In addition to installing outdoor ticket pick-up machines, Bolton Valley has moved its ticket sales and ski rental operations to outdoor retail windows. “Everything that we could put outside is outside,” said DesLauriers.
While skiers can still make reservations to eat in the capacity-limited indoor cafeteria or tavern, they can also get a quick hot chocolate or coffee and donut snack combo from an outdoor food window.
All food at the resort is also available for online ordering and pickup, and even for in-room delivery for lucky hotel room-renting season passholders. This year, Bolton Valley converted half of its hotel rooms into season-long cabanas. “There were a number of families who decided they weren’t comfortable being in the base lodge this year, so with a hotel room, they are able to be in their own isolated space,” said DesLauriers.
As for the rest of the hotel rooms, DesLauriers said the resort does not take the issue of cross-border travel lightly. “Out-of-staters are those who primarily stay in our hotels,” said DesLauriers. “For those who are reserving with us from out of state, we call every single reservation at least 10 days prior to their arrival to have a one-on-one conversation with them to figure out what they’re doing for quarantine and to make sure that they are following the protocols. We have turned away reservations.”
For instance, if someone books the Bolton Valley Hotel from a fly-in state, they are immediately turned down. Additionally, if resort employees can’t reach someone to have a one-on-one quarantine conversation before they arrive, their reservation is canceled. “Our hotel operation is very strict on how we are handling out-of-state visitation, and as a result we are not seeing very good occupancy!” said DesLauriers. “It’s never easy, and you never want to turn down revenue as a business owner, but thankfully it is possible for us to do that in large part thanks to the relief packages that have passed at the state and federal level,” she added.
In addition to turning down hotel reservations, Bolton Valley employees have sent skiers home for failing to comply with mask-wearing requirements. “We pull tickets and ask people to leave if they are not in compliance,” said DesLauriers, who noted that while this has happened before, it’s a rare occurrence. “For the most part, people want to comply and be safe.”
In my experience at Bolton, all skiers were fully masked, all mouths and noses out of sight. At 6 p.m. the sky was dark and only a sliver of orange sky remained above the horizon. The trails were lit bright under glowing white lights. Eventually cold toes and a reservation at the tavern sent me inside, where I disinfected with a bottle of Vermont-made hand sanitizer on the table, warmed up to a hot cup of chamomile tea and filled up with a burrito bowl that I ate using the resort’s completely compostable cutlery.
Despite being sold out for the day, lift lines were virtually nonexistent by 7 p.m. “We have sold out many times and many days this season,” said DesLauriers. “But yes, we’re taking the ding onto ourselves by limiting the number of daily lift tickets that we sell this year.”