Utah (ABC4) — Utah is known for having the “Greatest Snow on Earth.” The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has changed the daily operation of many life tasks. As Alta Ski resort, located up Little Cottonwood Canyon, prepared to open for its 83rd season, they have found themselves making adjustments to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols put in place by the state.
“While skiing is our passion, the COVID-19 pandemic requires changes to our winter operations for the health and well-being of our skiers, employees, and community,” as stated on the Alta COVID-19 information page.
How Alta plans to interlodge this winter is an operation that has needed adjusting in efforts to plan for social distancing when mother nature takes her unpredictable course.
What is an interlodge? Interlodge means everyone must stay inside a building with no outdoor travel until unsafe snow conditions can be mitigated.
Interlodge protects people from the avalanche control that is taking place outside. Alta Ski Area works alongside the Utah Department of Transportation, UDOT, to intentionally trigger avalanches to make the road and ski area safer for travel.
Due to safety concerns, skiers and staff cannot be in their cars during an interlodge. In years past Alta resort visitors would wait out the interlodge in Goldminers Lodge. Due to COVID-19 concerns, Goldminers will be closed this year giving visitors no place to wait for the interlodge to end.
Interlodging is usually done in the early morning. Alta officials said on interlodge days many skiers would try to make it up the canyon before the interlodge, wait it out inside a lodge then get an early start to the ski day.
Shawn Lambert, District Engineer with UDOT said, this year they plan to interlodge around 1 a.m. Lambert said this decision was made to avoid skiers trying to make it up the canyon before roads close because there will be no place for them to safely wait out the mitigating. Making changes has been researched to help ensure health and physical safety for all.
“That was something that definitely concerned our avalanche crews,” Lambert said. Extra communication will be made this year warning travelers and skiers of interlodging. Messages will be shared on road signs with information shared on websites and social media to warn those headed up the canyon.
Lambert said Alta and UDOT “try to avoid interlodge situations” each year and this year they will do the same.
Officials with Alta said they are making extra efforts to ensure all skiers are safe and socially distanced from COVID-19 while skiing.
“We have a lot of experience with winter Interlodge restrictions at Alta Lodge. We also have a fair amount of practice with 2020 Health and Safety initiatives and guidelines from being open this summer season,” said Rosie O’Grady Vice President Director with Alta Lodge. “There may be additional restrictions this winter to address social distancing during Interlodge, but have every confidence that we can maintain safety on all levels this winter season for all our guests and staff.”
In addition to interlodge protocols, Alta is implementing the following additional safety measures:
- Managing skier capacity. They will determine a daily mountain capacity based on snowpack, available terrain, and the capacity of indoor facilities. Daily capacity will be managed through available parking on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Frequent road and parking updates. See updates Road & Parking Status
- Creating Space. Physical barriers and signage will be used to allow physical distancing.
- Riding the Lifts. Skiers will be allowed to self-group and load the chair with those they are skiing with. Lift attendants will not require skiers to ride a chair with other skiers they do not know. Single riders will need to queue up in the regular lift lines as we will not be using singles lift lines this season. We will use ghost lanes to provide lateral space between skiers in lift lines.
- Cleaning and Sanitization. Cleaning and sanitization strategies will be enhanced in cooperation with CDC, State of Utah, and SLCHD guidelines.