In a typical spring, skiers and riders would be spending March weekends skimming across frigid man-made ponds in crazy costumes or unveiling colorful and creative duct tape and cardboard creations for one memorable run.
COVID-19 crushed all that this season along with bump-busting competitions, terrain park showdowns, a bevy of citizen races, vacation week staples and more. Will we see events next season?
Ski NH President Jessyca Keeler surmises ski areas will be reevaluating all the events that they used to do and determine which ones they want to keep, based on event financials, and the branding and exposure that they offer. Health and safety will be important factors for next season’s decision making.
“I think that if the health situation is positive and amenable to ski areas holding big events, people are likely to be interested in attending and/or participating in them as well,” she said. “We’ve seen all this winter that people want to be outside and having fun, and good ski area events — which are also almost always held outside — can really add to that fun vibe.”
Ski areas operators knew last spring and summer through New Hampshire’s “Safer at Home” guidelines that 2020-21 events were off the table. So they adjusted for both guests and employees.
According to Cranmore Marketing Director Becca Deschenes, instead of staff parties, they did things like free hot lunches for employees on weekends and daily during vacation periods, Facebook trivia with staff for local business prizes during February vacation week and pulling a page from the Kennett High School chairlift graduation playbook last summer, did something similar with employees during their internal annual Summit Awards at the summit’s Meister Hut.
“We knew going into this season that we probably wouldn’t be able to hold events for guests and employees like we have done in the past. Definitely a strange thought coming from a resort who is typically very event focused,” she said.
Mountain Meisters was on pace before Wednesday’s last race to raise about $5,000 through the Pay2Play program introduced in 2018 which has raised that much annually to benefit local non-profits while the resort’s Employee Engagement Committee raised just under $800 for the New England Ski Museum’s canceled Meister Cup.
Instead of live guest events, they turned to social media, for monthly terrain park events on Instagram, a terrain park sticker contest and a mountain penguin cutout photo hunt to post selfies. Instead of apres ski, Meisters did weekly online raffles. Season pass holders didn’t do their monthly first tracks with the general manager. Instead, they were allowed early access on Saturdays and holiday periods.
“Hopefully, we can continue to move towards normalcy,” said Deschenes about next season.
King Pine Marketing Director Thomas Prindle felt both the mountain’s employees and guests fully expected that the 2020/21 season would be a unique one and that not having some of their usual events was low on their list of hopes.
“Overall, both our guests and teams have conveyed gratitude and appreciation for having operated successfully this season,” he said. “Already, I feel positive momentum with increased vaccinations and working toward a large-scale immunity may put us in a better position to have a more “normal” operating 2021/22 season.”
Like the resorts, non-profit organizations also adjusted with some offering virtual events instead of those on snow. Some had longer online events and did well in their efforts.
“It will be interesting to see how non-profit organizations rethink their models for next year,” he said.
Some uphill events with its socially distanced formats escaped the worst of the pandemic.
The non-profit Granite Backcountry Alliance is hosting its fifth annual Wild Corn Shindig April 3 at King Pine, a switch from Black which closed for the season, with demos of AT, split and tele gear, a Ski the Whites skimo race and live music. There’s also an online auction (granitebackcountryalliance.org).
With bike and trail running seasons in sight, those adventurers are ready for competitions and King Pine is primed to host Tri Trek Events’ King Pine Tri and Duathlon on June 5.
“It’s tough to say what impact the ongoing pandemic may or may not have on winter events that we organize or the overall ski area operations for the 2021/22 season, but we should have a better picture during the off-season and I like to remain positive and hopeful we may see a bit more ‘normal’ ski season,” Prindle said.
That we all do.