Pandemic or no, it still comes down to powder.
There’s nothing simple about planning a ski season with the specter of COVID-19 continuing to cast its pall.
But even the complicating factor of the virus doesn’t change the reality that what defines a successful winter is whether the seasonal parade of Pacific storms delivers its customary bounty of light, dry snow on the slopes at Anthony Lakes Ski Area.
“As long as it snows it’s all going to be fine,” said Chelsea Judy, marketing director for the resort in the Elkhorn Mountains.
“We will be skiing.”
But even though the snow-draped subalpine firs and the ice-encrusted cleft of Gunsight Butte are likely to look the same as always this winter, skiers and snowboarders will notice some differences.
Probably the most obvious changes, in deference to a respiratory infection that spreads most effectively indoors, will be at the ski area’s lodge, Judy said.
Everyone will be required to wear a face covering — visitors as well as employees — except while eating or drinking.
The mandate includes skiers and boarders who wear a helmet with a visor or other barrier, Judy said.
Inside the lodge, about half the usual complement of tables and chairs will be available to ensure guests can keep a proper distance.
Employees will be disinfecting tables, chairs and high-use areas between each user.
The cafe will be open — with a streamlined menu — but Anthony Lakes is asking guests to limit their time inside the lodge to 30 to 45 minutes to ensure everyone has a chance to warm up and fuel up, Judy said.
“It’s just going to be a different feel,” she said. “Our whole motto this year is to keep moving.”
In a letter posted on the ski area’s website, general manager Peter Johnson wrote: “Of course, our staff will be available to guests with families if additional time is needed, but we request that each of our guests respect each other by ensuring people who need a place to sit down and warm up for a bit have it.”
An employee who will serve as a “COVID safety compliance officer” will be on duty while the lodge is open to ensure social distancing, disinfect surfaces and answer visitors’ questions.
The situation will be similar downstairs in the Starbottle Saloon, with fewer tables and seats.
However, Judy said Anthony Lakes has removed the deck outside the Starbottle, making it possible to expand the “snow deck” — the flat area on the west side of the lodge, overlooking the meadow where the triple chairlift begins.
There will be more seats outdoors than in past winters, and skiers and boarders can also use a “ski-thru” window to pick up their order at the saloon.
“We’re trying to find ways to be creative,” Judy said. “We’re honestly excited to be presented with this opportunity to look at operations.”
Among the questions ski area officials can’t yet answer, due to the ever-changing restrictions related to the pandemic, is whether there will be live music as usual at the Starbottle.
Judy said Anthony Lakes has booked musicians, and they will perform if possible. Another possible option is outdoor concerts.
Prioritizing skiers and boarders
Outside on the slopes, Anthony Lakes will have daily limits on the number of skiers and boarders, which is necessary to make social distancing feasible in the lodge.
Judy said officials don’t yet know what those limits will be; more details will be announced before Nov. 1.
One thing that has been decided is how Anthony Lakes will prioritize who’s on the mountain, in the event that capacities are reached.
Season pass holders will have the highest priority “no matter what,” Judy said.
In his letter, Johnson wrote that “Our pass holders are the reason Anthony Lakes is what it is. So, if you have a season pass, no need to worry about getting as many days in this winter as snow allows.”
Season pass buyers will not have limits on how many days they can ski or board, nor will they have to make a reservation.
On a typical day in past years, Judy said, about 25% to 30% of the visitors at the ski area are season pass holders.
The group with the second-highest priority is those who have a discount ticket from one of Anthony Lakes’ lodging partners, which includes motels, vacation rental homes and other lodging establishments.
A list of the 48 partners is available online at https://anthonylakes.com/almr-lodging-partners/
Judy said that giving priority to guests with a lodging discount ticket is designed both to help local businesses that have struggled during the pandemic, but also to encourage people from outside the region to continue to ski or board at Anthony Lakes.
The ski area attracts visitors from the Boise area, as well as the Tri Cities in Washington, among regional metro areas.
A similar promotion is available to all visitors, whether they’re from the area or not.
The ski area will have 20 tickets for each operating day, at a 50% discount, for guests who have a receipt for a purchase of at least $40, from the past 7 days, from a locally owned restaurant or retail shop in Baker, Union, Grant, or Wallowa counties.
Lodging partner and local business support discount tickets will be available only at the ticket window at Anthony Lakes. Visitors can show their voucher or receipt and have a ticket printed.
Once the priority groups have been counted, a certain number of general day tickets will be available, Judy said.
Those tickets will be sold online only, at www.anthony
lakes.com — there will not be any general day ticket sales at the ski area. These online tickets will be sold starting Nov. 1, and will be available for any operating day during the season.
In his letter, Johnson addressed the limitations on these general daily ticket sales.
“We will not be completely cutting back on ticket sales, just reducing the amount of day tickets sold each day to the point where we can manage day-to-day operations while comfortably practicing social distancing,” Johnson wrote. “The number of day tickets available for any given day will be based solely on previous years ticket sales. More details to come prior to November 1st.”
Judy said it’s not known whether there will be any restrictions on skiers and boarders riding the chairlift, which requires people to sit shoulder-to-shoulder for the 7-minute ride to the top.
Anthony Lakes usually opens in late November or early December, depending on snow conditions.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
The Nordic Center, in the Anthony Lake Guard Station east of the lodge, will be open, but with limits on the number of people allowed inside at one time.
Judy said there will not be any limits on the number of daily trail passes sold.
Cat skiing and yurts
Cat skiing won’t be available at least to start, since that service involves 12 people riding inside the relatively snug confines of a snow machine.
If the pandemic eases, cat skiing could resume during the season.
The yurts will be available for rent as usual, and employees will thoroughly clean and disinfect them between guests. Reservations will be available at www.anthonylakes.com starting Oct. 15.
There will be limits on the number of people inside the rental shop, and guests will enter on the ticket booth side and exit on the carpet side. Rental equipment will be sanitized between uses.
It will be open, but with limits on the number of people inside simultaneously.
It will operate, but with COVID-19 precautions. Groups can book lessons online in advance.
Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol will operate as close to normal as possible this season with precautions, including patrollers wearing face masks and other protective equipment.
Ski For the Health of It
The program that offers free lessons for local fifth-graders is uncertain, but it could happen if the pandemic eases, Judy said.