GILFORD — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic – or maybe because of it – the New Hampshire ski industry could be in store for a busy season.
At Piche’s Ski & Sports Shop on Tuesday, co-owner Pat Bolduc said there seems to be a lot of people who want to get outdoors and participate in a healthy activity.
“Since April it has been off the charts,” Bolduc said. “If we can get the equipment, we can sell it. We ran out of bike products. Some companies are having a hard time with supplies and freight, but our winter inventory is looking fantastic.
“Everything is going. We’ve sold a ton of cross country equipment the last two months, snow shoes, a lot of AT gear, a ton of alpine gear.
“The vibe is very positive right now. We just need the white stuff.”
AT, or alpine touring, equipment is designed for both downhill skiing and uphill travel.
Skins can be attached to the bottom of the ski for going uphill. Special boots and bindings make uphill travel easier.
“They’ve become very popular over the last five or 10 years,” Bolduc said. “A lot of people want to avoid lift lines and crowds and there are specific trails to go up.”
Cross country skiing is also getting a lot of interest.
Bolduc Cross Country ski park is nearby.
“They are getting phone calls left and right,” he said.
People are less likely to want to travel by air during the pandemic, which is good news for New Hampshire areas, which thrive on drive-in traffic.
At Gunstock Mountain Resort, President and General Manager Tom Day has put in place various restrictions to limit the potential for spreading COVID-19. The ski industry worked with the state to produce a guidance document.
People are being encouraged to get into their ski boots in the parking lot and tromp to the lift. A pandemic is not the time for piling into the lodge and getting into and out of gear.
In fact, many people might want to return to their cars to eat. Ski tailgating may become a thing.
“We assume there will be some of that,” Day said. “We’re certainly encouraging people to use their car as their base lodge, their boot-up area, their locker and their lunch area.”
Some people may want to bring folding chairs with them to make it easier to put on their boots. There are specially designed bags to keep boots warm and toasty for when it is time to put them on.
Devices can be attached to the bottom of boots for ease of walking and slipped into a pocket when the skier is ready to go skiing. There are even straps for ease of carrying skis.
All this may be somewhat of a culture change. In many parts of the country, it’s typical to boot up at the car, but for whatever reason, people in the east are accustomed to doing so in the lodge and stashing their bag in a cubby.
“It’s a behavioral switch,” Day said. “People make it sound like it’s horrible, but it’s not.
“Fortunately, the parking lots are accessible to the ski trails. We’ve got a pretty good setup here.”
Access to the lifts requires a radio frequency identification, or RFID, card. Once purchased, the skier keeps it and can reload it online for subsequent trips. In this way, the skier can go from the car to chairlift without any human contact.
State guidance calls for skiers to share lift chairs only with members of their own family or traveling party. Masks are to be worn in line, on the chair and indoors when not eating.
A heated, special trailer is being brought in to provide extra restrooms, an arrangement sometimes used at weddings and a step up from the typical portable toilet.
Access to the lodge will be subject to capacity restrictions. Indoor food service will be by reservation, but there will also be outdoor food windows and food trucks.
Special sanitation equipment, including a “Ghostbusters-type rig” will be used to provide the cleanest possible environment, Day said.
Capacity restrictions could come into play on the slopes. The resort might have to stop selling tickets on some particularly busy days.
“We will cap where we have to — those days when it snows on Thursday and is beautiful on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But there’s usually not a whole lot of those.”
Day encourages people to go to the resort’s web page — www.gunstock.com — for further details. A video is being prepared. People arriving at the parking lot can tune their car radio to an FM message explaining procedures.
No child care will be offered this season.
Even with all the changes, Day says there are indications of a strong season in the offing, if nature cooperates.
“Anything anybody can do to get outside is important,” he said. “People love our cross country area.
“The Gunstock Nordic Club has seen an increase in their level of enrollment. They can snowshoe, go skijoring with their dogs.
“Everyone just wants to be outside. We just want to make sure people have a good experience.”