Winter wonderland

Photos by Laura Paton

Despite the warmer temperatures, winter sports enthusiasts hit the slopes at Yawgoo Valley Ski Area over the weekend to enjoy the snow. Pictured: Gavin Boiscoair gets some air on his snowboard.

 

EXETER – Rhode Island’s only ski and snowboarding resort, Yawgoo Valley, is finding ways to keep customers on the slopes this winter season despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to a mix of restricted capacities, timing and adherence to health and safety guidelines, the business said it was able to keep operations going safely.

“We’re lucky to have an outdoor facility,” said office manager Katie Chamberlain. “That helps us a lot because the rules are geared toward indoor premises.”

Yawgoo Valley contains 12 ski and snowboarding trails across 36 acres, a snowtubing park, a waterpark, a cafeteria and bar and pro shop, along with producing its own snow and offering ski and snowboarding lessons.

In the summer, Yawgoo opened its waterpark and was in a unique situation regarding rules around health and safety due to its notable standing in the state.

“We didn’t really have specific guidelines being the only ski area [in the state], so we took all the [recommendations of] different departments that came to us and came up with the best plan,” said Chamberlain.

Working off that plan while designing the operations for the winter season, the business was able to successfully open last month with shortened sessions on weekends, restricted quantities at lessons and a reduced number of season passes sold. These efforts allowed the resort to overall regulate capacity on its trails and indoor facilities. Yawgoo said it also enforces health and safety regulations such as requiring masks both inside and out and social distancing between skiers and snowboarders, and posted signage reminding patrons of such.

“The other thing is that when people have their skis and boards on, even in the lift line, that’s close to six feet [of separation] naturally with the gear on,” said Chamberlain. “That spaces peoples, another perk.”

When attending Yawgoo Valley, customers book sessions or buy season passes. By shortening these timeslots on busy weekends, Yawgoo was able to take extra precaution.

“Those sessions used to abut each other, but now there’s an hour break in between, so we can bring all the rental equipment back in, sanitize it and sanitize indoors and the outside area as well,” said Chamberlain.

The resort also pivoted its cafeteria and lodge operations, cutting out any interior eating and adding a takeout window with outside tables spaced out for social distancing. Its upstairs bar remains intact and requires patrons to sign in with a 60-minute time limit.

The only typical feature of the business that could not be replicated in the pandemic was some of its lesson options for newcomers.

“We used to do a walk-in lesson, but we thought the mixing and matching of participants and instructors would be too great a risk,” Chamberlain explained. “Though we still have our multiweek program, and the benefit of that is it’s the same group of participants with the same instructor for five weeks.”

In order to get customers back up the slopes after a run, Yawgoo Valley uses rope tows and features two, double-seated chair lifts. The resort said it requires social distancing on both options.

“Because we only have double lifts anyway, and people usually come together or in groups, we put people from the same group in the lifts,” said Chamberlain. “Otherwise, we’ll load people single.”

With winter in full swing, business is going well, the resort reported.

“It’s a great turnout,” Chamberlain concluded. “I think our biggest challenge is the weather and being able to stay consistently open because of it. We’ve had a lot of snowmake in the past few nights.”

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