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Big Sky Resort releases winter operations plan

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Big Sky released a new lineup of season passes this winter and announced a few changes that will allow them to adhere to social distancing guidelines. PHOTO BY JEFF ENGERBRESTSON

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – At Big Sky Resort social distancing isn’t the most difficult undertaking. With 5,850 skiable acres, it’s easy to spread out and enjoy the open mountain air. After closing a month early last season, finishing off a successful summer season, tweaking its pass offerings this coming winter and all that acreage on their side, the resort is eager to spin lifts for the winter 2020-21 season.

“We recognize that the resort is a pretty integral part of this community and to the lifestyle that we all live here,” said Troy Nedved, the resort’s general manager. “The thought that we’re putting into structuring our operations this year is absolutely with the goal to open and stay open. We recognize when last year we closed it was a shock to our community, and to all the things we’re used to.”

The five season pass options are available on the resort’s website and the result of carefully observing skier needs. For example, Nedved says the average skier uses the tram seven days, which prompted the offering of the Black Pass: unlimited skiing plus seven days on the tram for those days when you need a little extra vertical.

Other additions resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as “Worry-Free Winter Assurance,” which provides credit toward a 2021-2022 season pass based on the number of days lost if the resort were to close due to unforeseen circumstances and operate fewer than 140 days.

Passholders also have the option to roll over the value of an unused 2020-2021 pass as a credit toward a 2021-2022 pass for any reason through Dec. 10, 2020. This assurance program also applies to those who purchased passes earlier this year.

The Lone Peak Tram may look a little different this season. While resort staff can manage occupancy on chairlifts by keeping families together and enforcing face coverings, tram riders are in close quarters. To mitigate this, depending on how things go as winter approaches, the tram may have limited capacity. Gone too, is the singles line, a standard that will be followed by all U.S. ski resorts this season.

Nedved says this is all in an effort to strike the right balance between maximizing uphill capacity and respecting everyone’s personal space and comfort level. With the uncertainty of the pandemic, rules will be fine-tuned as the season progresses.

“I couldn’t be happier with our team,” said Nedved, who just concluded his first year as general manager. “[Although] I wouldn’t choose to have a first year like this … operations during a national pandemic brings people closer together and refines your skills and refines your team to a point where it’s certainly been a positive.”

Ikon Passholders must use Ikon’s reservation system prior to visiting Big Sky Resort and Mountain Collective Passholders may be required to make a reservation before their visit—additional details are forthcoming, according to a Sept. 15 release. 

Lift ticket holders can now purchase their desired days of skiing with no anticipated restrictions. Doing so before the start of the season, Nedved said, assures access.

“I’m glad to have them, but I’m a little bummed that the singles line is gone. It’s pretty cool … how they’re breaking it up,” said Andy Haynes of the pass options this year. Haynes works as a boot fitter at Grizzly Outfitters and has been in the area for eight years. “I think they’re doing the best with what’s in front of them. Try to keep the lifts spinning.”

All chairlifts and the tram will be running per usual, but with social distancing measures in place and face coverings will be required in all loading and unloading areas. The resort is also offering an early-access first tracks program on Ramcharger 8 allowing skiers to make reservations for lift rides at 8 a.m., an hour before public access.

All resort dining operations will allow for online ordering and grab-and-go options and the Yellowstone Conference Center will be open to the public to provide additional seating and room for dining and warming up this winter. Mountain operation details were outlined in the Sept. 15 press release, and Nedved says Big Sky Resort looks to the National Ski Association, the lead educational body in the industry, for general guidance on operations.

“We have more acreage and more space … a strength that we can play on,” Nedved said. “We’re just a little different than the traditional destination ski area.”

Since they went back on sale Sept. 15, season pass sales were surprisingly high, Nedved added, as skiers and riders look forward to a successful winter season ahead. Prices on all season passes increased Tuesday, Sept. 22.

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