Ski seasons usually melt away. As the cover dwindles and skiers turn to other activities, ski resorts shut down the lifts.

Last season that all changed. March 12 I was at Mt Abram for the annual Legends race, a chance for senior skiers to compete against members of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

No, I didn’t compete. Having reached an age when it hurt to fall, I’m not about to run a course that covers ¾ the length of Boris Badenov. My goal that day was to interview some Mt. Abram skiers for a book I was working on. I was counting on a couple more weekends there to wrap up the interview part, but it didn’t happen. When I stopped by the office I learned the area would be closing for the season that Sunday.

My weekend plan continued as I traveled over to Mount Cranmore for the annual Meister Cup, a big fundraiser for the New England Ski Museum. At that point, we knew about the coronavirus, but other than bumping fists or elbows instead of handshakes, the Cranmore event went as planned. By late afternoon the tiny pub was jammed with skiers, elbow to elbow around the bar and at the tables. No one thought about social distancing.

As it turned out, that Sunday was the final day of the season for almost every ski area and resort in the East and throughout North America. The big shutdown followed and the ski industry has spent the time since figuring out how to open up under the new rules.

The new rules specify limits on the number of skiers who can occupy any closed space. We probably don’t need to be concerned about being on the ski trails or even in lift lines. Given the length of our skis and those of the skiers in front of and behind us, we’re usually 6 feet from other skiers in line. Of course, gondolas are different. Will Sunday River’s eight-passenger cars be limited to a couple of skiers? Will quad chairs carry only a pair of skiers?

Other than lengthening lift lines, I don’t look for much of an impact out on the mountain.

Inside is another matter. Skiers need space to change into boots. Those of us who remember ankle-high leather lace boots know it was quite common for skiers to actually wear their boots to the mountain. (I wasn’t old enough to drive.) Obviously, we can’t drive in today’s Alpine boots, and changing them in the car is no fun, either.

Skiers staying in hotels and condos will be all set, but what about those of us who live near enough to drive to and from ski resorts on the same day? I ski mostly mid-week and that will surely help. But these limits will certainly hurt food and beverage sales in the restaurants and cafeterias. Will I be able to have lunch in my favorite places, the Loose Boots Lounge at Mt. Abram, Blizzards Pub at Shawnee Peak, the Foggy Goggle at Sunday River, the Bag at Sugarloaf, and the Swig and Smelt at Saddleback? Limits on occupancy in base lodges could impose a serious revenue hit on ski areas.

We won’t have answers to a lot of these questions until the season is well underway, but we will have to call ahead or check ski area websites for the rules before we head for the mountain.

I suspect that those of us who ski mostly mid-week will have an easier time than those who can ski only weekends. Of course, one benefit of the new rules of employment could mean more skiers mid-week.

I have checked a few ski area websites and most have requirements such as face coverings and social distancing. Some are quite specific and others more general.

Obviously, resorts with onsite lodging will have signage spelling out the rules for each location. One-size-fits-all certainly won’t work at our two biggest resorts, Sunday River and Sugarloaf. Both have such a variety of lodging and food and beverage spots that each will have to have its own set of guidelines according to the size of the individual facility. That being said, we can also expect to see signs in the base lodge at Mt. Abram designating how many can be in the main lodge and in the Loose Boots Lounge at one time. Ditto for the main lodge at Shawnee Peak and Blizzard’s Pub. Look for tables and seating to be ribboned off to space out seating.

Many skiers already ski with almost full face coverings, anyway, and while I did see one area requiring that the lower part of the face be double-covered, most of the coverings we are already using will suffice. Of course, you will probably want a lighter weight mask when indoors or dining.

Out on the slopes, the number of skiers on a chair or in a gondola may be limited. Those singles lines so popular for skiers trying to beat long lines may disappear. They are one of the more popular benefits of triple chairs. I often choose them so I can chat with other skiers while riding the lifts. I learn a lot from those rides, and often you may have read the results of those conversations in editions of this column. The best advice is to travel to the area with friends — whether two, three or four of you. Stick together and you can probably ride the lifts and ski together.

This season is going to be different. We’re all going to have to make adjustments, but sliding down the mountain shouldn’t change. I did have one thought as I pursued this piece. Maybe the last time I got a different car, I should have considered a conversion van.

See you on the slopes, but not too close.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected]


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