Masked up on the Mountain


Days are darkening and temperatures are dropping. For some, this means a cold, dark winter, but for others, this part of the year where snow begins to fall in heavy blankets up on Mount Ashland is the best time of the year — snow sports are now in full-swing with the mountain open to pass holders today, December 18, and to the general public tomorrow, December 19! All through the year, lovers of skiing and snowboarding wait with baited breath for the start of the season, but this year, things are going to be different. With COVID-19 still rampant among the world, Mount Ashland is forced to make some changes to this year’s ski/snowboard season.

While skiers and snowboarders can still have a fun-filled day cruising the slopes, tickets must be purchased in advance, lessons are not accepting anyone under the age of 7, and reservations and payments must be made two days prior.  Social distancing will be required but where it is not possible, face coverings will be mandatory. The new guidelines have also forced the mountain to close the lodge, eliminating a huge portion of the activities people enjoy doing throughout their day on the mountain The restaurants and bar will be closed as well as the retail shop, lockers are no longer for rent, warming up by the cozy fire during lunchtime is no longer an option, and if you have to use the bathroom, there will be portable toilets stationed around the parking lot.

For Ashland High School senior and former member of the Alpine Ski Team, Zoe Zapf, the issue of portable toilets is a concern.

“It takes ten minutes for me to strip off all my tons of ski gear even to go into the normal bathroom which is much cleaner and nicer so the portable toilets will be not so awesome,” Zapf said when asked what challenges the coming snow season might bring. She continued to explain how snowmelt from people’s boots would create a mess on the bathroom floors and that the situation was not helped by the lack of places to store ski gear while using the bathroom; lodge bathrooms provide civilians with little baskets to put gloves and helmets until they are ready to leave the facilities. Zapf then went on to voice concerns about COVID-19 in the portable toilets. Coronavirus living on surfaces carries the potential for people to contract the virus from these makeshift bathrooms.

Despite the big question mark that is the bathroom situation up on the ski mountain this winter, Zapf is excited to start the ski season. COVID-19 risks are certainly present, but she feels relatively safe from the virus up on the mountain.

“Skiing is an outdoor activity and it is really easy to distance from people,” Zapf said. “There is really no reason, other than waiting in lines, to get very close to people and if you go up on the chairlift with people who either you are in a pod with or that you live with, then COVID is not a risk on the chairlift.”

Even with bathroom woes and virus exposure risks, Zapt still plans to make the most of the ski season by heading up to mountain weekly or biweekly. While Zapf still plans to buy and use a season pass this year, a limited number of tickets per day are still available to be purchased in advance. While this is certainly better then nothing, being forced to buy tickets beforehand carries its own little set of challenges. Gone are the days when those who opt out of a season pass can drive up the mountain on a whim when the day pans out to be a perfect bluebird day.

“I think it is really good that they’re limiting the amount of people up on the mountain,” Zapf said. “In terms of reserving a ticket and not knowing if it is a good day to go up, that is hard because sometimes it is really crummy.”

COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our communities, but Zapf is not planning to let that stop her from enjoying an activity that she loves to do. The La Nina year that is scheduled for this upcoming snow season will surely answer Zapf’s wishes when she says, “I just hope we get some good snow.”