CONWAY — What’s new and different from last season for the 2021-22 skiing and riding season?
It all depends which area you go to, says Jessyca Keeler, executive director of Ski N.H., the Conway-based organization of 33 alpine and cross-country ski centers.
“Last winter, we advised visitors to ‘Know Before You Go’ and that advice holds for this year as well,” said Keeler this week.
“With the safety of guests, staff, and our communities our priority, we’ve compiled resources needed to make informed decisions this season.”
While there is no single statewide standard for COVID-19 precautions, she said, all New Hampshire ski areas are implementing numerous safety guidelines and protocols.
“Many practices that came into being last year are coming back this year, such as keeping base lodges free of ski bags. Many areas are providing storage lockers outside but not inside the lodges,” said Keeler. Masks are likely to be required for many indoor spaces as well.
“No matter where you plan to ski, plan ahead, bring a mask and a vaccination card if available, as some indoor facilities may require them,” Keeler said, noting that “a lot of ski areas will require people to wear masks inside except perhaps when dining — so plan on bringing a face mask with you for when you plan to go inside to dine or use the restrooms.”
Ski lifts will likely be loaded to capacity this year.
“Last year, you’ll recall that only members of a same group could board a lift together. This year, there might be some variations on gondolas. But generally, for regular chairlifts, you will be able to ride with people not in your group.
Keeler noted that Vail Resorts, owner of Attitash and Wildcat ski areas locally, has its own set of rules, “including checking the vaccination status for certain indoor cafeteria-style dining. Check with their websites,” said Keeler.
She said since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, ski areas benefited from the desire of people to get outside. Overall total winter visits (including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and tubing visits) during the 2020-21 season totaled 2,295,424 visits, which statistically mirrors the 10-year average.
A visit represents one person skiing or tubing for one day and includes ticketed guests (paid, complimentary, multi-day, group) and season passholder visits. This number was up 4 percent compared to the 2019-20 season, which was cut short by anywhere from two to four weeks for New Hampshire ski areas due to the pandemic.
Alpine skier visits alone were also up 5 percent over 2019-20 (to 2,066.011), but down 3 percent compared to the 10-year alpine skier visits average. Cross-country skiing was down 10 percent (to 112,009) over the previous year, and 8 percent off the 10-year average, whereas snow tubing was up 1 percent (to 117,404) compared with 2019-20 and up 9 percent compared to the 10-year average.
“We saw people flocking to the mountains to hike the trails and paddle on our lakes and streams during the summer and fall months because recreating outside was considered one of the safer things people could do. We suspected that we might see that trend continue into the winter months and that there would be a high demand for alpine and cross-country skiing, and we weren’t wrong,” said Keeler.
She noted that while there were no state-mandated restrictions to the numbers of people who could ski last season, limitations on chairlift capacity and indoor lodge capacity resulted in many ski areas managing daily visits by limiting the numbers of tickets sold, and this impacted the overall skier visit tally.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with last season’s results, given all that our country was grappling with,” Keeler said. “In addition to pandemic challenges, we also had some challenging weather to contend with, so to end up having an ‘average’ season in a year that was anything but — that is truly remarkable.”
Winter was slow to come, Keeler said, and many ski areas opened a week or two later than planned. She said, “The extra time allowed the staff to fine tune those new operating practices.”
Moreover, with ski areas asking people to boot up in their cars and think of their vehicles as personal base lodges last winter, the relatively warm winter made this shift easier for people to handle. Warm weather at the end of the ski season also caused a couple of ski areas to close earlier than normal.
Keeler credited the collaborative efforts of the ski industry across the country in developing best practices to protect the health and safety of staff and visitors, and thanked Gov. Chris Sununu, the Department of Health & Human Services, and those who served on the Governor’s Reopening Task Force for helping develop a usable set of guidelines that allowed them to be open and operating during a global pandemic.
“It’s a testament to the hard work of our industry and government leaders that not once did any New Hampshire ski areas have to shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak,” Keeler shared.
Looking to this season, Keeler said skiers can expect to find improved snowmaking, grooming, lifts, and lodging, thanks to extensive capital investment across the state, including here in Mount Washington Valley.
Local resort updates include:
• Black Mountain is scheduled to start its 80th season Dec. 18, conditions permitting. Back for a fifth season is Ski the Whites’ Friday Night Lights Uphill Ski Series, beginning New Year’s Eve and continuing through March 18 (dates are Dec. 31, Jan. 7-28, Feb. 12 (Saturday), Feb. 18 and 25 (bonfire and music Feb. 25); and March 4, 11 and 18 (finale). The course will be open at 6 p.m. with 7 p.m. group start and pizza from 7:30-8 p.m. Lostbo Pub will be serving beverages at the base lodge deck window (no BYOB). A limited number of rentals will be available with reservations.
COVID protocols will be in effect following the latest state and CDC guidelines, notes series coordinator Andrew Drummond of Ski the Whites (skithewhites.com).
In other news from Black, the family-owned ski area has hired Capt. Ray Gilmore (10th Mountain Division, U.S. Army-Ret.) as ski school director. Gilmore is a Mount Washington Valley native and has skied and taught for decades. He previously ran the Mountain Meisters program at Cranmore.
“Gilmore’s distinguished career, along with his passion for skiing and dedication to our local community makes him the ultimate fit,” notes Black Mountain owner/General Manager John Fichera.
One of the things Gilmore will be bringing back to Black is a children’s seasonal program. “We are focusing on all-mountain skiing and the skills needed for Big Mountain Adventures. Not just the mileage of lift-served laps, but incorporating alpine touring and mountain safety such as first aid and avalanche awareness, how to get up, as well as get down, how to dress for success and make the most out of a lifetime of skiing,” Gilmore said.
For more, go to blackmt.com.
• Bretton Woods opened for the season Nov. 26. New Hampshire’s largest ski area with 464 acres of skiing and snowboarding on 63 trails and 35 glades and featuring 10 lifts, including the Skyway, New Hampshire’s only eight-passenger gondola, Bretton Woods was happy to get the new season off to a good start.
The new Rosebrook Lodge at the top of the gondola, and part of a $60 million capital improvements package last year, offers stunning panoramic views of the Presidential Range.
“We had a great weekend opening,” notes Craig Clemmer, director of marketing for the Omni Mount Washington Resort, which last year underwent a major addition with its 66-room, three-suite Presidential Wing.
The resort will be “strongly suggesting” masks indoors and outdoors. Different from last year is that it will be loading its lifts and gondola at full capacity and there will be more “mix and mingle” at the lifts than last year, says Clemmer, who notes that all CDC and state guidelines will be followed.
Like Cranmore and King Pine, Bretton Woods will allow guests indoors to boot up, unlike last year, but will not allow them to bring their bags inside.
Bretton Woods Ski Lodge will not be doing any apres-ski entertainment. “We will offer food and service but at this point, no bands at the base lodge as we are focusing on the ski side of things (people can come to the Omni Mount Washington’s Cave Lounge for entertainment,” said Craig Clemmer.
For more, go to brettonwoods.com.
• Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway was slated to open Dec. 3 for the weekend. It continues its resort redevelopment, this year opening the Artist Falls Lodge, a new base lodge for their tubing park. The first level features a tubing park ticketing office and the second floor is a restaurant and bar.
The new Alpine Cafe and Bar will feature about 1,800 square feet of dining space and grab-and-go options along with an expansive bar that looks out on the Tubing Park.
The ticketing area will have kiosks so guests who pre-purchased tubing or Mountain Adventure Park tickets can print out their tickets without visiting a window. There are also new restrooms and a fitness room for Kearsarge Brook Condominium residents.
On-mountain improvements include a snowmaking pipe upgrade that will increase water capacity for snowmaking on and near the summit. Since 2011, Cranmore has invested over $1 million in snowmaking improvements. Upgrades have allowed the resort to cut snowmaking hours by 25 percent.
Marketing Director Becca Deschenes said guests will be allowed indoors for dining without reservations, unlike last year. Masks are strongly recommended. Although apres-ski will be featured once again, all guests in Zip’s Pub will have to be seated — no dancing.
Also, “you can come into the lodge and get ready (to ski), but guests will not be able to leave their bags indoors. We will have cubbies outdoors that will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis,” said Deschenes.
Reservations are recommended for Cranmore’s tubing park, as that worked out well last season; however, unlike last year, Cranmore will not be limiting the number of lift tickets for skiing and riding.
Visitors will see site work begun by the LaFrance Hospitality Group, constructing an 89-room Marriott hotel adjacent to the Tubing Park. It is projected to be completed prior to the start of the 2022-23 winter season.
Looking ahead, Cranmore’s high-speed Skimobile Express Quad will see a major upgrade come spring. The chairlift, that was originally installed in 1995 will go through $1 million in full system modernization after the conclusion of the winter season. For more, go to cranmore.com.
• King Pine Ski Area in East Madison has had the snowguns on to get ready for its planned Dec. 17 opening, during which they will once again do their canned food drive.
The area added inventory to their rental fleet including 358 sets of skis and bindings, 486 sets of ski boots, 600 ski poles, 289 helmets, 113 snowboards, 113 snowboard bindings and 174 sets of snowboard boots.
Grooming at King Pine will be enhanced with the purchase of a new Prinoth Bison snow groomer, purchased by the Hoyt family at a cost of $319,000.
Notes Marketing Director Thomas Prindle: “In addition to annual lift and snowmaking infrastructure maintenance, our team was hard at work this past fall excavating sections of the ski area to expand our employee parking lot and the fill from that was repurposed to grade the Bear Rug hill so that the carpet lift could be installed in a more permanent manner reducing wear and tear and hours spent installing and uninstalling annually.”
A new outdoor food and beverage service window, the Trails End Tavern Express, has also been added to the main base lodge along with additional outdoor seating.
Off-season investments in technology are improving on-mountain Wi-Fi access points for better connectivity and will enable the introduction of a ticketing sales and redemption point.
It will also allow for limited food and beverage sales at a new and larger snow tubing “shack.” “We also will have a new summit webcam available for public viewing in addition to our base area webcam,” said Prindle.
Protocols include face coverings required in all indoor public spaces when not actively eating or drinking.
No bags or items to be left in the base lodge and no storage space or “cubbies” available inside. Guests will need to leave bags in their cars.
Food or beverages not purchased at King Pine cannot be brought into or consumed in the base lodge. Any “brown bagging” will need to take place at guests’ vehicles or an available outdoor seating area. For more, go to kingpine.com.
• Attitash Ski Area in Bartlett is scheduled to open “within a week,” according to Vail officials as of Dec. 2. With the addition of snowmaking on Wilfred’s Gawm, Turkey Shoot and Ammo Pitch this season, Attitash now has snowmaking coverage across 90 percent of its trails. New fire pits in the Bear Peak base area are the perfect spot for a toasty après. Attitash Terrain Parks are more tricked-out than ever thanks to a dozen new features.
In summer 2022, Vail Resorts plans to replace the East and West Double-Double chairs with one fixed-grip four-person chair will improve reliability and enhance the overall guest experience at Attitash. For more, go to attitash.com
• Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch was scheduled to open Dec. 3. New this winter is revamped snowmaking that will help set up good conditions throughout the season, while new chairs on the Wildcat Express lift will help skiers and riders get up to get down.
At both Attitash and Wildcat, as part of Vail Resort’s stable of 34 resorts, Vail Resorts will not have a mountain reservation system this season and will load lifts and gondolas at normal capacity, optimizing guest movement around its resorts.
Face coverings will be required in indoor settings, including in restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, retail and rental locations, and on buses. Face coverings will not be required outdoors, in lift lines, or on chairlifts or gondolas, unless required by local public health. For more, go to skiwildcat.com.
• Backcountry skiing continues to evolve and grow, with the non-profit Granite Backcountry Alliance leading the efforts for building and maintaining trails and responsible use through its “Ski Kind” program of skier accountability. Local glades include Maple Villa in Intervale and South Baldface in Chatham. Upcoming events include the M.W. Otto Rhode Memorial on the Mount Washington Auto Road Jan. 29, 2022; the Mt. Washington Backcountry Ski Festival, Feb. 24-27; and the Wild Corn Shindig, once again returning to King Pine April 1-2. For more, go to granitebackcountryaliance.org.