Ski resorts and school sports will look considerably different this winter, courtesy of the pandemic.
For high schoolers, there will be no wrestling or indoor track at all because state officials see no way they can be conducted safely.
Teams can compete in Nordic and alpine skiing, snowboarding, basketball, bowling, cheer, dance and gymnastics, with strict limitations — including no spectators, except for one parent per athlete’s family.
Cheer squads can hold their seasons, but may not perform vocal routines, even in practice.
Restrictions adopted for fall sports worked out well, said Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, though there were complaints that the rules for football and volleyball went too far.
Moving into winter, a super spreader event in Montpelier has influenced some of the thinking. What began as a few cases at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center’s ice rink is now linked to 112 cases, including cases at seven K-12 schools and 65 cases at St. Michael’s College in Colchester — where 17 new cases were reported Monday after campus-wide testing. Most of the St. Michael’s cases are asymptomatic.
Masks will be required for athletes, coaches and officials.
Moore said Vermont understands that in-person learning is fragile, and precautions are needed. “We’re looking for ways to take lessons learned” and ensure that sports can be played safely and kids can remain in school, she said.
The risk depends on the sport — the degree of person-to-person contact, and the level of exertion that could spew athletes’ exhalations widely. That ruled out wrestling and indoor track, respectively.
Practices can start Nov. 30 and games can begin six weeks later, on Jan. 11. That provides enough time to look for trends that emerge and make any necessary adjustments — including delays or cancellations, Moore said.
The rules for ski areas
Just like school sports, Ted Brady, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said ski areas must alter how they do business.
Multiple state agencies contributed to the new rules, which focus on six areas of safety and security.
• All customers must attest they have complied with travel and quarantine guidance. Brady called this the most restrictive policy in the country, and the penalty for violating it can include revoking ski privileges altogether.
• Ski areas must collect contact-tracing information for every skier on the hill every day, and keep it on file.
• They must reduce reliance on out-of-state staff. Ski patrollers and other resort employees can still come into Vermont to work, but only to work — no socializing.
• Chairlifts can’t exceed 50 percent of capacity, except for a party traveling together. Gondolas can carry just a single person, unless they’re big enough for people to stay at least 6 feet apart.
• Base lodges have a cap of 75 people, or 50 percent of fire occupancy, whichever is smaller.
• Resorts must have very lenient cancellation policies, so people who are sick or violating travel rules won’t still come to Vermont because otherwise they’ll lose a lot of money.
Brady said the rules will require a lot of adaptation by ski areas and guests which is partly why the Legislature put $2.5 million into grants to help ski areas improve safety.
If all the rules sound like a barrier to skiers from other states, Brady said, “this is a great time to move to Vermont and work from home for the winter.”
Reservations for skiers are not required, though some areas have instituted them, including Stowe Mountain Resort, which was announced by parent company Vail Resorts at the end of August.
Stowe’s vice president and general manager, Bobby Murphy, in a four-page letter to the Stowe community, said “We’ve all waited patiently for the return of winter sports, and this year more than ever, we need it.”
“Some will not agree with our approach, feeling we are being too conservative,” Murphy wrote. “And I recognize the changes we are implementing will be an inconvenience. But I ask for your understanding. In return, you can count on us to try and do everything we can to help keep you safe and make skiing and riding a reality in Stowe this entire winter.”