To Ski or Not to Ski? That is the Question

On March 24, Governor Phil Scott issued an executive order stating:

Vermonters are directed to stay at home or in their place of residence, leaving only for essential reasons such as: personal safety; groceries or medicine; curbside pick-up of goods, meals or beverages; medical care; exercise; care of others; and work, as set forth further. 

So the question that everyone was asking was: does this mean we can still skin and ski?

At a press conference, Gov. Scott said:  “Outdoor activities  like dog walking or cross-country skiing are fine, but it is critical people keep a social distancing of six-feet apart, minimum.”

What that means has been a topic that’s lit up the internet, pitted locals against out-of-towners and caused some areas to put up concrete barriers to keep skiers out the access roads or parking lots.

Michael Christopher Owens, skinning and social distancing.

“I skin every day,” says Michael Christopher Owens, Director of Alpine Touring at Magic Mountain in the winter and  a regular competitor of the Northeast Rando circuit. “But I stay within 10 miles of my home. I don’t ski on trails or in conditions where I think I might get hurt and I practice social distancing.

When we caught up with Owens he had just returned from a skin at a nearby ski area. “However, it’s crazy there — there were cars parked all over the place — probably 60 percent of them with out-of-state plates. There were people hiking up in regular ski boots — and it’s really icy now. People come to these ski areas expecting the trails to be like they were during the winter and groomed and that’s not the case now. And when they are heading up the mountain, they are not practicing social distancing. I had a guy skin right up to me on a skin track and start chatting. He looked stunned when I asked him to move away. ”

Owens has also had to deal with people from out of state asking where they could rent AT gear. “I told this one dude from Connecticut  who reached out to me on a Facebook group, ‘No, you can’t rent gear here and you should stay home.’ He just didn’t get it. Then he said “We’ll, I’ll just come up and ride my mountain bike.’  I know people have second homes up here but the whole point is not to move around, not to drive across three states or to have to stop at a gas station. Honestly, it’s gotten so bad I’m leaving a lot of these Facebook groups that focus on skiing. ”

Cars were lined up along the road near a popular trail for skinning in southern Vermont this past week.

Shortly after it closed on March 13, Jay Peak erected barrriers across its access road. Killington/Pico have officially closed to uphill skiing. Middlebury College, the first college in Vermont to send students home in early March, shut down the parking lot to its ski area, the Middlebury College Snow Bowl this week.

“It wasn’t so much that people were not obeying the social distancing measure, but more that we wanted to avoid them simply getting in their car and driving up here. That takes gas and at some point, they’ll have to go to a gas station,” said the Snow Bowl’s general manager Mike Hussey. “Also, there’s no ski patrol here, no chance of an immediate rescue and even if there was, we would be exposing others. The added load on the emergency services is an unnecessary burden on a group of folks that are working really hard to get ahead of this virus.”

Sugarbush Resort’s president Win Smith has been posting about skinning and wrote this on his blog: “We are still permitting uphill travel as has been our policy, but we ask everyone to do it in a responsible fashion.  If we find this is not the case, we will be forced stop uphill travel. ”

Craftsbury Outdoor Center had closed its facilities but continued to groom its trails and allow skiers to use them last week. “We’re not open, but we’re grooming the core trails and Ruthie’s and Sam’s,” said Sheldon Miller of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, on Friday, March 20. “We sealed up the 2021 manmade pile up for November the other day too,” he notes, referring to the novel way Craftsbury has developed to keep piles of snow frozen over the summer by covering them with wood chips and then using that snow as an early season base.”

Yet, by the next day, things had changed. A new notice appeared on the Craftsbury web site:

Effective Sunday, March 22: We had hoped to keep some trails groomed as long as the snow allowed, but we now feel forced to close for the following reasons:

Skiers are not keeping “social distance” (6 ft) from each other. This is critical behavior for all of us to follow at all times. Skiers are gathering in groups to socialize. Even a group smaller than 10 people is at increased risk of sharing germs. We appear to be attracting folks from outside our VT community and this does not seem like a good idea at this time. So, effective Sunday, March 22, we will no longer groom our trails and we ask you not to come to ski. We do this in the best interest of the health of the COC community. Stay healthy!

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.