On Thursday, March 12, 2020, Berkshire East and Catamount became the first ski areas to shut down for COVID. Within 100 hours, most ski areas in the country had followed suit. The next 16 days were full of uncertainty, nervousness, and fear.
At both mountains, we concluded that we would approach the year dynamically. We worked to communicate our decision to close to our customers, our staff, and quite frankly to ourselves.
On Saturday, March 28, 2020, I received an email by Karin Tanenbaum from Mark Halperin, an NYC ER Doc, asking for ski goggles to be repurposed as PPE by hospital workers at COVID stricken facilities. By Sunday afternoon, we had created www.gogglesfordocs.com, and by Monday, March 30th, Mikaela Shiffrin pushed Goggles for Docs on her social media channels, and we were off. By the middle of the week, the website was seeing 30,000 individual views per day.
As of May 1, Goggles for Docs had shipped 30,000 plus goggles to hospitals and health care workers in need across all 50 states and multiple countries. A diverse group of people was organizing hundreds of volunteers from around the country. Simultaneously, volunteers organized Goggles for Docs chapters in Europe, South America, Africa, Australia, and for a short while, New Zealand.
By mid-May, the Massachusetts reopening process was underway. I joined as the Co-Chair of the Outdoor Recreation, Eco-Tourism, and Rural economy task force. The goal of this task force was to create COVID operational guidance for industry, parks, and other recreational activities in the Commonwealth as the state grappled with the reopening. In so many words, it was like building a fire truck en route to the fire as we had about two weeks to create sound policy, as reopening a state from a pandemic had never been done before.
At the same time, our businesses participated in the federal PPP program. It was critically important that we use that money for our staff to return to work as soon as possible per the state regulations. We also strove to put that money to work, making our mountains better. At Berkshire East, we built a snowmaking pond and expanded the mountain coaster. Catamount saw its rental shop renovations, ridge run improved through site work and blasting, a new beginner ski trail cut from the summit around the pitch of Glade to allow beginners to have a second route from the top. Zoar Outdoor, the Warfield House all got makeovers as well.
For the first time, new duties are being split between the Hermitage Club and Bousquet Ski Area. Both mountains were engaged by my family and coworkers to oversee their reopening. The Hermitage Club was passing from bankruptcy and Bousquet from a prior owner to Milltown Capital.
Bousquet received an incredible makeover, a new lift, a completely new snowmaking system, equipment overhaul, and two new magic carpets. This mountain will be an excellent resource for the community for the years to come.
The Hermitage will remain private due to deed restrictions placed upon it from when Mt. Snow owned it but is reopening as a nonprofit entity that focused on providing a great ski experience for its members. The goals of the club are much more closely focused on fiscal responsibility, responsible growth, and community relations.
Our managers rooted our summer operations at Catamount, Berkshire East, and Zoar in COVID best practices. Each week was an adventure, but our teams operated effectively. Through running the zip lines, mountain biking, mountain coaster, and rafting, we gained valuable insight into how a winter operation could look.
As the leaves turned color, we reconvened the Massachusetts reopening state task force to write the Massachusetts Ski Area guidance. This document was submitted for approval on October 30, 2020 and we expect guidance to publicly available during the week of the election.
What can you expect from Catamount and Berkshire East this winter?
Berkshire East and Catamount are entering their first year under two new General Managers. At Berkshire East, Gabe Porter Henry will fill the void left by myself as I strive to oversee all four mountains. At Catamount, Mark Smith, with an extensive ski racing and construction background, has stepped in to run the resort.
At both resorts, COVID compliance and COVID operational modifications will be the name of the game. Besides the skiing, much of our operation will shift outdoors as we look to accomodate people in a winter outdoor environment. Outdoor dining and foodservice spaces will become the new focal point of the resorts. Heaters, fire pits, bbq, and other fun amenities will make the experience winter carnival-like, but guests should arrive prepared to ski, as space will be a premium this season.
A lot of effort is going into building 100 winter timber framed 'cabanas' that will fit a group of 6. These units are being manufactured at Catamount, using wood responsibly harvested from our Warfield House farm, and milled at Hall Tavern Farm in Charlemont. Fifty will end up at each mountain, respectively, providing up to an additional 300 extra seats at each space.
These units will have heat, a table and provide space for a family. We are still working on allocating these units to customers each day, but we will announce that process in the coming weeks. The lodges will operate per state guidelines at reduced capacity. Berkshire East will see the addition of new outdoor gathering spaces and patios that will be fun and very logical once you see it.
There will be many other changes, that can be certain, the rental, ticket sale, and customer service experiences will be very different, but different is ok. Our goal with this winter, and has been all summer, is to embrace the changes forced upon us. The ski business is old, and each mountain has a lot of operational 'memories' that may not always be in the best interest of the customer.
COVID is forcing us into looking at the entire operation and questioning the when, why, how, where, and what we are doing in each one of those areas. Unsurprisingly, we are coming up with a lot of areas of improvement. At Berkshire East, we have retained a food and beverage advisor, Howard Wein, of the Alvah Stone, to look at our entire operation and prepare a food plan that works for COVID. Catamount sees an entire evaluation of the foodservice system by Centerplate, the food vendor that oversees the F & B operations there.
2020 has been a crazy year, and our goal is to be there for you this winter. In 7 short months, the world has changed dramatically, but when the resorts are groomed, and the lift starts up, each day can begin with new possibilities. Skiing is fun, simple, and naturally socially distant.
Simply put, we are here to provide you with a great winter.
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