Without a doubt, the 2019-20 ski and snowboard season was one for the record books - great powder days, guests from around the world enjoying The Greatest Snow on Earth, restaurants and bars serving up the Ski Utah lifestyle. Then, it all came to a sudden pause on March 14.
The pandemic pause caused an unprecedented halt to a great season. How did it all come down? How have the resorts managed it with guests and employees? What does the future hold?
An emotional Last Chair episode takes listeners deep into the scene as the 2019-20 season came to a halt.
Last Chair's interview with Ski Utah's Nathan Rafferty, Davy Ratchford from Snowbasin and Dave Fields of Snowbird isn't just with a group of business leaders. It's an emotional, almost tearful, conversation with a group of skiers just like you - individuals who have spent their lives in the sport. They'll recount the tough times, how their resorts reacted and, like all skiers and snowboarders, eventually, gravitate back to powder runs and blue skies. It's a heart-wrenching episode you won't want to miss.
The weekend of March 14-15 was a crazy time as Ski Utah's Nathan Rafferty was texting Utah's 15 resorts nonstop. "There are no days like this - days that you'll remember your entire career."
"There are no days like this - days that you'll remember your entire career."
"It all happened so quickly - and there's no playbook," said Snowbird's Dave Fields. He was like all other resort directors and managers - concerned about their guests, but also about the thousands of employees whose entire lives were impacted. It was an emotional time as livelihoods stood in the balance, with longtime employees stepping up to offer their help. "It was humbling. I started crying. You know, it's a big deal to me and I don't take that lightly."
The next weeks and months became a time of compassion, video screens and skiers and snowboarders looking for ways to help each other. "Your only outlet is your computer or phone," said Rafferty. "You're wondering 'gosh, I wish I could just do something to help.' Skiers are just itching to help." Rafferty stood in a parking lot in early April watching car after car pull up with skiers and riders dropping off goggles for the Goggles for Docs cause. "Aside from getting goggles for medical personnel, it was just as impactful and just as important to give a conduit to people who wanted to be able to help in some small way."
"It's heartbreaking because there's passion and there's necessity of life with people trying to make ends meet," said Davy Ratchford of Snowbasin, who recalled parking lot conversations with both guests and employees that weekend. "It impacts everybody. It's not just the ski industry. We know this is everywhere, right? But in the ski industry, in particular, it's very family-centric. It's a lot of people who care about each other at a very deep level and a lot of passion out there with our guests."
Leaders across Ski Utah's resorts maintained close contact with staff all spring. Some provided unused food to employees. They shared thoughts with others on how to best help guests. They looked to the future - could they reopen? What will next season look like? Every day, they were reinventing themselves.
"We went to individuals' homes and we celebrated them and surprised them," said Ratchford. "We're still trying to keep that relationship and connection and make it personal, or texting an employee who just had a baby."
The trauma of the spring aside, what's on the minds of resort leaders now is looking ahead to days of powder and blue skies. It's analyzing what new processes and procedures need to be put in place, said Fields. "How do we create a new environment for people and how do we do it in a way that's authentic to our experience and allow us to run a resort," said Ratchford.
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