As another ski season looms, travel and quarantine requirements have fallen by the wayside while a renewed wave of COVID-19 surges, but Stowe’s hospitality industry has largely been left alone by the state to craft its own vaccination protocols and other protections for employees and guests.
The result is a patchwork of policies with varying degrees of strictness and uneven treatment between workers and visitors.
Stowe’s hospitality industry and its largest resorts are broadly sticking to the current health and safety guidelines recommended by the Vermont Department of Health, trying to provide an adequately safe environment without deterring guests after taking a hit during last year’s first pandemic winter.
“The first priority of businesses is the safety of their guests and employees,” said Nate Formalarie, a representative of the Agency of Commerce & Community Development. “But they also don’t want to turn away guests.”
Tourism accounts for a large portion of Vermont’s economy, a $3 billion industry according to the state. Prior to the pandemic, the Stowe Area Association told the Vermont Business Journal that the town’s taxable receipts grew from $78 million to $135 million between 2009 and 2019, indicating a precipitous growth in tourism.
Though Lamoille County is one of the most vaccinated places in the country, with 89 percent of its residents having received at least one dose, Massachusetts and New York — two states that together account for over a third of Vermont’s out-of-state visitors — have counted 76 percent and 70 percent of their residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine, respectively.
An honor system
Across Stowe’s hospitality sector, resorts and hotels alike are mostly relying on an honor system when it comes to requiring guests to wear masks if they’re unvaccinated.
At Trapp Family Lodge — the 2,500-acre resort overlooking Stowe village built upon property originally purchased by the Trapp family, which still owns and oversees the resort’s operations — vaccination information is requested for guests, but proof of full-vaccination against COVID-19 in the form of a pharmacy-issued vaccine card is not required, relying instead on guests following an honor system.
According to Bob Schwartz, marketing director, the resort is still allowing guests who aren’t vaccinated, but asks them to wear masks.
For the resort’s employees, which number somewhere between 250 to 499 according to the Vermont Department of Labor — not including satellite businesses like its brewery — it’s a different story.
The lodge requires employees to submit verification of their vaccination status. Unvaccinated employees are required to always wear masks, though they are not required to submit to regular testing for COVID-19. Many vaccinated employees still wear masks, according to Schwartz.
Schwartz emphasized that the resort’s COVID policies are fluid as they watch to see how the delta variant develops through the fall and into the winter and how the government’s policy on the issue changes.
Stowe Mountain Resort — owned by the Vail Resorts and employing between 100-249 employees according to the state — is requiring its employees to be vaccinated and wear masks indoors, citing recently announced federal rule changes under the
U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
New policy announced by Vail Resorts on Monday says that masks are required indoors at the resort but not outdoors, and a reservation system will not be required to access skiing at the mountain. Proof of vaccination for those 12 and older is required to dine at the resort’s indoor, on-mountain, cafeteria-style restaurants.
According to Jeff Wise, a communications manager, guests staying at the resort will not, in general, be required to provide proof of vaccination.
Trapp Family Lodge and Stowe Mountain Resort are currently maintaining some of the strictest policies for employees and guests among the resorts and hospitality industry in Stowe.
Smugglers’ Notch Resort — owned by Bill Stritzler and managed with assistance from RCI and Wyndham and employing, at times, up to 800 full-time and seasonal employees — did not initially respond to a request for comment regarding its vaccination policy for employees and guests.
Recent guests at the resort said they were not asked for information regarding vaccination status, but simply relayed information about health and safety protocols. According to the resort’s website, employees who interact with guests often are required to wear masks at all times regardless of vaccination status.
Smugglers' Notch Resort stopped requesting vaccination information from guests after Vermont's state of emergency ended and the resort asks employees for vaccination status information but does not require proof of their vaccination status, according to a resort representative.
Topnotch Resort in Stowe also relies on the honor system when it comes to the vaccination status of guests and employees alike, simply requiring unvaccinated employees to wear masks and posting signage requesting unvaccinated guests wear masks as well, according to manager Matt Wheeler.
Stoweflake Mountain Resort has reinstituted a mandatory masking policy for employees, regardless of vaccination status, and is asking unvaccinated guests to wear masks in their building, but not requiring verification of vaccination status from employees or guests, according to Scot Baraw, vice president of sales.
Formalarie, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development representative, did note that mobile vaccination clinics were held throughout the summer, providing vaccination for many of the resort employees who desired it.
“I don’t have the data in front of me,” he said, “but a policy of asking for vaccination and proof from employees while requiring guests to submit their vaccination information on an honor system is shaping up to be the industry policy.”
In the absence of guidance from the state, the split between strict and not-so-strict policies when it comes to vaccination and COVID-19 mitigation can vary even at establishments that are technically attached to one another.
Big Fish, the splashy new seafood restaurant recently opened by culinary heavy-hitter Jack Pickett, has come out as one of the few restaurants in town to implement a stringent proof-of-vaccination policy for guests.
All diners over the age of 12 at Big Fish are required to provide proof of their status as fully vaccinated against COVID. Unvaccinated guests are allowed to dine masked in an outdoor patio area while weather allows.
Employees at the restaurant must also be vaccinated and ask diners whether they would like their server to also wear a mask.
At the Commodores Inn, the hotel to which Big Fish is connected to but separated by different ownership, the policy regarding vaccination is much laxer.
The Commodores checks with guests on vaccination status, again on an honor system, but asks them to wear a mask if they’re unvaccinated. All their employees are vaccinated, but it’s not an official policy.
“We encourage businesses to follow the current Vermont Department of Health guidelines,” Carrie Simmons of the Stowe Area Association said when asked for the organization’s advice for local businesses.
At its monthly mixer tonight at the Wildflower restaurant, which is attached to The Grey Fox Inn, an email from the association announcing the event included a disclaimer.
“By attending this mixer you are attesting to being fully vaccinated.”
This article was corrected Sept. 24 to reflect that Smugglers' Notch Resort is owned by Bill Stritzler, not RCI and Wyndham, and that data provided by the Vermont Department of Labor inaccurately overstated the number of workers employed by the resort along with a clarification of the resort's vaccination policy for workers and guests.