Day four of Timberline’s first phase of operating under COVID-19 restrictions was a success. On Friday, May 15, the Mount Hood ski area kick-started the Magic Mile and Stormin’ Norman lifts, opening up operations to a “fraction of their carrying capacity.” Recreational skiers and snowboarders were able to access the slopes, as long as they made an online reservation no less than 24 hours ahead of time, and snagged a ticket on a first-come-first-served basis. Under strict social distancing restrictions, such as entering the parking lot after passing a checkpoint, maintaining a six-foot distance in lift lines, and always covering faces and hands with goggles, masks, and gloves, many enthusiasts were able to get back on snow without a hitch.
Timberline’s marketing director, John Burton, likened the on-snow vibe to that of a golf course. The people were out enjoying a sport that they loved, just farther away from other groups than they were used to, respecting each other’s space. Looking back on the weekend, customers adhered to the health and safety guidelines, and the operating staff had no major complaints.
This is this good news for recreational skiers in the area and great news for the ski racing community. Over the course of the summer months, Timberline’s Palmer glacier has consistently been the hub for all things summer training in the United States. Ski camps, gear testing, and national projects spend ample amount of time at Mount Hood, taking advantage of an extended season and prime snowpack conditions. A successful opening weekend can only mean one thing – training is an option in the summer of 2020.
“By the time we look at a first or a second week of June start date, realistically, we should be in phase two of our plan, which has a reasonable carrying capacity based on a typical summer,” says Burton. “The challenge isn’t so much about getting people on the hill, it’s going to be about how we do that and about keeping them safe when they’re on the hill.”
Thus far, the team at Timberline anticipates having a similar amount of interest in training lanes as they would any other summer, although the exact numbers are not something they can define as of today. The terrain is there, the snowpack is good, and social distancing guidelines would look very much like they do now. The next step in the alpine community is figuring out how to facilitate a successful experience for camps, the national team, clubs, and others looking to get back on snow while keeping up with safety and health standards given increased numbers on the mountain. If they see a big jump interest, their plans will have to shift in order to accommodate. Plans A, B, and C could all change depending on the final number of participants that commit to making the trek to Mount Hood this summer.
“If we get 1,000 people on a typical Tuesday, how do we social distance those lift lines? How do we manage Midway? Are people going to fly or drive? What do the budgets look like? They’re giving us the best numbers they can but they know they’re not super solid,” says Burton. “We’re planning our social distancing based on that, but we know it could be different. I don’t want to set the wrong expectation, we’re gonna figure it out, but it’s not figured out today. The terrain’s there, but it will be a different experience.”
Governor Kate Brown still has the power to put the state back on lockdown at any time if the state of affairs in Oregon starts to go south. With so many cards shuffling around the table, Burton and the mountain operations team are looking at how they can keep the game going throughout the summer at Timberline, while not ruining the fun for any other ski resorts that decide to open their slopes. Biting off more than they can chew is not the goal.
“Everyone is working together to move forward,” says Burton. “It’s going to be tough for a while, so let’s get this right so that we don’t take a step backward.”