Op-ed: Off-Season during a pandemic
The effort to keep up
By Dominic Carr
In a year filled with political, economic and global health crises, as well as an unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented,” it is beginning to seem that there is truly no aspect of our lives that can remain untouched by the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having come to Big Sky seasonally for the last 20 years, and having lived here full time for the last two, it is easy to see the one big question that’s weighing on the minds of a lot of locals—where oh where is the off-season?
If this were a normal year, we would be expecting a very significant slowdown in tourism and traffic beginning almost immediately after the resort closes down its mountain biking season. During this time, shops reduce their hours or close completely, summer workers pack up and move on to their fall gigs, students go back to school, and Big Sky itself slows to a crawl. To compare it to a ghost town at times would not be an exaggeration.
Instead, we saw no slowdown whatsoever in the end of September, and only a marginal slowdown moving into the early days of October. In contrast, most businesses, already under pressure from the pandemic, are reacting as they would any other year, if not with greater restrictions than usual. This has led to increased stress and responsibility on essential workers and a certain level of confusion for those who are coming to Big Sky, either for the first time or as returning visitors.
When you factor in the incredible amount of development occurring in the Big Sky, Moonlight, Spanish Peaks and Yellowstone Club areas, further issues arise. Not only are there more people “getting away” to their vacation homes for extended periods of time, there are also more contractors, trucks and heavy equipment making the arduous mountain commute up and down the more-crowded-than-usual main roads that define Big Sky’s layout and traffic flow.
The ongoing bridge work, happening within Big Sky and down the canyon at mile 49 on Highway 191, has also substantially increased the burden upon commuters. A single car accident, regardless of severity, can render the entire exit-train of traffic completely unmovable for long periods of time, adding to the frustration of an already limited and uncertain population. When something like this happens, that frustration, and the inevitable rush of foot traffic into businesses from people that now have nowhere else to go, is transferred into the Town Center environment, which serves as both an economic hub and a nightmare-inducing bottleneck for vehicles trying to make their way out of Big Sky.
Thus, the question remains: where on Earth is the off-season and how are we as a community supposed to keep up with so many hurdles stacked on top of one another? The infrastructural and social burdens that are bearing down upon us will require open-minded consideration, progressive discussion and a willingness to acknowledge a changing economic landscape.
Thankfully, our resilience has so far outweighed our dilemmas. The hardworking people of Big Sky are pressing forward to ensure the continuation of quality service, all while combating mask-fatigue, increased workplace pressure and stressful day-to-day occurrences. With ski season and flu season both looming, it might be hard to say what the future holds, but one thing is for certain: we will be here, and we will be ready to do it “Big” in the face of “unprecedented”circumstances.