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Resort recreationists rejoice

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Big Sky Resort dirt and turf opening for business

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – After Big Sky Resort halted lift operations a month earlier than expected for their winter season due to COVID-19, sun is on the horizon for recreationists itching to get back on the mountain. Resort officials announced their reopening plan for the summer 2020 season, starting with golf on Friday, May 22, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, and mountain biking to follow June 26.

Historically, Memorial Day is one of the resort’s busier weekends and the Big Sky community is preparing for a potential influx of visitors by following guidelines from local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The resort is working with Madison County Public Health and the health department’s sanitarians to train staff on proper sanitation guidelines including employee health screenings before every shift, sneeze guards at point-of-sale locations, frequent hand washing and encouraging card payments in lieu of cash.

“We’ve been working close with both Big Sky Resort and the Yellowstone Club,” said Melissa Brummell, Madison County’s public health department director. “Our general guidance at the Board of Health is to follow Gov. Bullock’s directive. We don’t have anything more stringent in place, so we’ve been working with them on some of the basics, making sure they’re able to open safely regarding his orders.”

Reservations for tee times and golf memberships are available on the resort’s website including season-long access at a discounted rate for a limited time. The Bunker Deck and Grill at the Big Sky Golf Course will be open daily starting Friday, May 29 for breakfast, lunch and dinner and will offer limited outdoor seating, delivery on the course and takeout options to encourage safe social distancing practices.

Alongside mountain biking, scenic lift rides at Big Sky Resort will open for the summer season on Friday, June 26. Both Ramcharger 8 and Explorer chairlifts will run daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Swift Current lift will run on Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer for biking and scenic rides. Vista Hall and Vista Bar in Mountain Village will be open daily beginning June 26 as well.

“We’re committed to compliance with the state guidelines,” said Stacie Mesuda, the resort’s public relations manager, adding that although the resort is following Bullock’s directives, the dynamic nature of the situation makes it hard to predict what the season will look like later in the summer. “We’re all hoping for a sense of normalcy, to be out on trails hiking, biking and riding again.”

Operationally, the resort relies on out-of-state and international employees for a portion of their workforce. Mesuda noted that they will continue to adjust staffing levels to accommodate their phased reopening plan, and that the resort is communicating Bullock’s 14-day quarantine rule, which is set to expire on June 1. In a Big Sky Town Hall last week, President and CEO Taylor Middleton spoke of their plans for thinner staffing this year, dependent on both revenue projections and their inability to house as many employees in the resort’s housing to meet county health sanitation guidelines.

Visit Big Sky, the Big Sky community’s marketing and management organization, launched a campaign at the beginning of the pandemic with the language “visit Big Sky later,” encouraging out-of-state visitors to keep the town of approximately 3,000 full-time residents in mind for future plans, but to respectfully stay home in hopes of maintaining minimal outside spread to the community. In preparation for Memorial Day and the resort opening, Visit Big Sky is encouraging all visitors to honor Bullock’s directives, and are partnering with local businesses to ensure they feel safe as visitors arrive.

“We are looking at in-state Montana resident travel and communicating to our fellow Montanans to come visit,” said Visit Big Sky CEO Candace Carr Strauss. “We all have done our job as Montanans to flatten the curve so let’s get folks to move about the cabin.”

VBS is distributing packages for businesses that include hand sanitizer, gloves and masks for all employees as well as animal paw-print stickers they can place on the floor to indicate six-foot spacing in queue areas. The stickers will be available for pickup at the VBS office by the end of the week and available to all public-facing businesses.

“The other part of this is that the workers need to be modeling that behavior,” Carr Strauss said. “If we expect guests to wear a mask, the business owners need to as well. It needs to go both ways.”

Big Sky Resort is encouraging all incoming visitors to visit for information on social distancing and safety practices in light of COVID-19. It also recently announced 2020-21 ski pass information, which this year includes loyalty pricing for all returning skiers and a flexible credit policy should the resort not open this coming winter season.

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