As fall turns the corner to winter, it’s hard not to ponder what the ski season will bring. To call last year strange would be an understatement.
The 2019/2020 season started off innocently enough with consistent snowfall in December and good ski conditions that prevailed into the new year. Unfortunately the good times did not continue to roll and by the end of January NorCal slipped into a high pressure vortex that would last the better part of two months. Tahoe City received one inch of snow in February making it the driest since 1988. With nary a flake falling from the sky, February 2020 was quite the yang to the record breaking yin of February 2019 which exceeded 300 inches.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 started creeping into the national consciousness. By early March it was impossible to ignore. Given its extremely contagious nature, goals of containment quickly morphed into mitigation scenarios at best. As infections surged, unprecedented lockdowns were instated throughout the country. The North American ski industry took the extraordinary measure of closing operations in the middle of a peak winter weekend. That weekend (March 13 through 15) coincided with the first real snowfall Tahoe resorts had seen in two months. Saturday was a full on storm skiing day and Sunday everything was closed. The following week, stay at home orders kept people from going to work, only permitted to leave for essential services. As storms continued to pound Northern California, anxious skiers started sneaking into the backcountry. For those who ventured out, the second half of March was a surreal, utopic powder experience while the planet went silent. Ski resorts never reopened.
The upcoming ski season seems rife with uncertainty. As temperatures cool down and people move inside, Covid-19 infections are ramping up at alarming rates. Vaccines show promise but world distribution isn’t going to happen overnight. Most ski areas plan to open with some type of Covid plan. Eliminating day ticket sales, reducing or pausing season pass sales, limiting indoor vending and requiring face coverings and social distancing are some of the many tools anticipated so far. Chairlifts will be loaded in family units or singles on opposite sides of the chair. Will these new protocols work? Will the ski season happen, albeit under a new normal? Will ski resorts survive with limited food, beverage and retail concessions? Will rampant infections shut down the entire industry again? Will ski touring become the only option and if so, will unexperienced skiers change the backcountry dynamic? Time will tell. Skiing-blog.com will report what we see. No matter how strange it may be.