VT’s Innovative Responses to COVID-19

[Opening photo: Killington Resort president Mike Solimano loads free groceries into employee cars. Courtesy photo.]

With all 22 of Vermont’s alpine ski resorts shuttered–as well as restaurants, bars and many businesses, ski towns around the state were in shock. “We’re used to shoulder season,” noted Polly Lynn, editor of  The Mountain Times in Killington, Vermont, a paper that serves the greater central Vermont region (and, full disclosure, is owned by the same parent company as VT Ski + Ride). “But typically Killington’s season goes through April and the mountain often doesn’t shut down until June. This will have a devastating impact on our town and all around us people are being laid off.”

Killington has a year-round population of just over 700 and sees as many as 30,000 visitors on a busy weekend.   This past week, some of the resort’s 300 year-round employees, armed with face masks and gloves, were busy handing out bags of food to employees. The food came from the freezers and stock rooms for the resort which, in full operation, had more than 10 eateries and served close to 400 pounds of fresh produce daily.

Killington was not alone in handing out free food as resorts around the state sought to clear the fridges and help out their communities.

Middlebury College was the first college in Vermont to move to online classes and send students home. This meant the college-owned Middlebury Snow Bowl was among the first to announce a closing date. After the March 11 college announcement, students formed a Google spreadsheet matching student needs with offers of help that ranged from ride shares, to housing in local homes to offers from one local resident to even bake a birthday cake. The story, first reported byThe Addison Independent, is here. 

Middlebury College (above) is one of the only colleges in the U.S. that owns both an alpine and a Nordic ski area—both a short drive from campus. Photo courtesy Middlebury College

Jay Peak, which was one of the first Vermont resorts to shut down, posted this notice to its customers on Friday, March 13, announcing how it would care for its employees. As with Killington, the resort is the major employer in a remote and rural part of the state:

It was not only ski towns that felt the brunt of the blow. Cabot Hosiery, one of the state’s larger and more successful companies, shut down its Northfield headquarters, the sole location where it knits Darn Tough socks. Owner and president Ric Cabot has promised employees will receive full pay at least through March 27

Eric Warnstedt, who owns the restaurants Doc Ponds in Stowe, Prohibition Pig in Waterbury and  Hen of the Wood, in Stowe and Waterbury had to shut down. “We have 170 employees to consider,” he said. In response, his restaurants are offering gift certificates to customers and promising 50 percent of the revenue raised will go to a fund to help the neediest employees.

Innovations

At Green Mountain Distillers, just south of Morrisville, the distillers put their expertise to work in creating an alcohol based hand sanitizer.  But perhaps one of the most innovative and exciting responses came from Stowe-based software developer Inntopia. The company, founded by snowboarder Trevor Crist, provides the back-end booking software for most of the major resort operators across North America, including Vail Resorta,  Alterra Mountain Company, and many others. The software is used to book everything from lessons and lift ticket to hotel rooms.

“In the past three days our team has looked at how we can adapt that software to help book testing for the coronavirus,” said Crist in a phone interview. “Our system was designed for example, to book a ski rental. So it is easily configurable to collect things like age height, weight, etc.. It’s easy for us to just change those configurations. So instead, we can ask questions that can help prescreen people such as, ‘Do you have a fever? Do you have a cough?  Have you been exposed to someone who has been confirmed they have Covid-19?  Have you traveled to these areas, etc etc.? Then that qualified information can get delivered to the right to the testing clinic, and patients can actually go into the system and schedule time slots for testing.”

Inntopia plans to make the software free to clinics and hospitals and to test it out on a smaller scale in Vermont before rolling it out to a larger population. “The software is ready to go now but we need to make sure that the systems are in place, that the testing sites are set up and that it can handle a huge overload. We already have the highest security measures in place for our software so we can be sure we are following HIPAA guidelines to ensure privacy.”

[For more, see Stowe’s Inntopia Adapts Resort Booking Software for COVID-19 Tests]

Inntopia employs about 80 people and has additional offices in Edwards, Colo., and Denver. “Those offices are in the epicenter and we may have had some exposure in one of our buildings. This solution came about when I started to hear how hard it was to figure out how to get tested,” says Crist. “This is having an impact on our employees, on our customers and obviously on the travel industry at large. It’s like World War II right now, we need private companies and everyone to pitch in and help find solutions.”

Several Nordic ski areas, including Craftsbury Outdoor Center and the Trapp Family Lodge Outdoor Center have continued to groom their trails. On a recent sunny day, the trails at the Trapp Family Lodge were packed and sap buckets were filling with spring’s bounty. “We’ll groom as long as possible,” said senior vice president Sam von Trapp, “Skiing and sugaring are pretty much the only parts of our business that are minimally affected.”

With schools and alpine areas closed, many turned to Vermont’s Nordic ski areas to get some fresh air. Here, kids and sap buckets dot the trails at the Trapp Family Lodge cross country ski trails. Photo by Lisa Lynn

Becky Fu von Trapp, a lawyer who emigrated from China to attend Vermont Law School and  is married to Sam Von Trapp, posted this note on her personal social media on March 15:

A month ago I was watching coronavirus from a distance, feeling sad for all the people who are suffering in my motherland, but still we are talking about another continent; now just in a month I am in the center of it. What a life time experience. My parents are in Changsha, China, 5 hours drive from Wuhan. They are safe, and they don’t know anyone who has had coronavirus. Today they told me that no new cases have been added for a week, and the patients are recovering and leaving the hospitals. I hope we will see a turn around as quick as that too. I do think people should stay at home, no point to travel around by air, by car. “Stay at home is the way to show patriotism”. That’s the coronavirus slogan from China. Our kids were napping on daddy when we skied to sugar house. Wolfie heard about coronavirus from the radio station, and we are trying to teach him washing hands while singing the complete happy birthday to you song. Hansi does not understand what is going on, he is too young that half of the time he coughs he does not even cover his mouth. Today seemed like a normal day to them. Today we have 8 confirmed cases in Vermont and more yet to come.

Today, March 18, the number of cases in Vermont is 17.

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.

Leave a comment