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COVID-19 triggered an early shut down to Sun Valley’s 2019-20 ski season.

Sun Valley won’t require reservations to ski and snowboard this winter, the resort announced last week—both answering a major question asked by prospective guests and departing from the practice of a major industry partner.

The resort hasn’t finalized its protocols, but in an open letter posted on the company website, President and General Manager Tim Silva said Sun Valley doesn’t plan to establish a reservation system or cap use for Sun Valley season pass holders. Same goes for those with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass—an affiliate product that grants holders seven days of skiing a season.

That’s not the case at Vail-owned properties; the industry mammoth announced in August that it will require reservations for access to its mountains, giving priority to Epic passes over single-day tickets.

At the time, both Silva and Vail CEO Rob Katz tipped that Sun Valley, an independent partner on the pass, might not follow suit—something Silva all but confirmed late last week.

“We are fortunate to be somewhat off the beaten path, and to have significant slope and lift capacities contributing to a relatively uncrowded resort,” Silva wrote. “We have also been busy this summer completing a 380-acre expansion of skiable terrain on Bald Mountain and replacing the old Cold Springs lift with a state-of-the-art express quad lift. With those things in mind, we do not plan to implement a reservation system or visitation limits for Sun Valley season pass holders or Epic Pass holders on Bald Mountain or Dollar Mountain this ’20/’21 winter season.”

Sun Valley may restrict day ticket sales on high-traffic dates “if necessary,” Silva said.

“Lift tickets will go on sale in early October, and this year we encourage all guests to pre-purchase their lift tickets online,” he wrote.

By press time Tuesday, Sun Valley did not respond to a request from the Idaho Mountain Express for more information on the planning process. But, Silva did note a few other changes for the upcoming winter. Lodges will reduce seating, simplify menus and, for some, require reservations. “Sanitized bag check facilities” will be available for storage at the base of the mountains. Lessons will continue “with an emphasis on private and limited group instruction.” And, in line with local ordinances, the resort will also require both employees and guests to wear some form of mask.

“Of greatest importance is the health of our team members, guests and community,” Silva said. “Maintaining focus on this critical priority will require the best efforts of our resort team, our pass holders and guests, as we cannot succeed independently. We assume that the current health mitigation strategies related to COVID-19 will continue to be in place through the winter, which includes the requirement of facial coverings in public spaces and indoors, and maintaining physical distance in all public spaces by both team members and guests.”

The resort will roll its full suite of COVID-19 protocols in October, Silva said.

Potential passholders will have to act before then, though, to take advantage of the resort’s “early bird” pricing. Sun Valley extended that discount until Sept. 30.

“Given the uncertainty of the current environment, we think extending our season pass price deadline until September 30th is the right thing to do,” Silva said in a statement earlier this month. “The resort leadership team has been working hard to create a winter operating plan that ensures a safe and enjoyable experience and we look forward to sharing the information over the next few weeks. While some aspects will certainly be different, we look forward to another great winter in Sun Valley.”

COVID-19 cut short Sun Valley’s 2019-20 ski season by nearly a month, prompting the company to offer a discount on pass renewals back in May. That deal still stands: Sun Valley will take 20 percent off the price for customers renewing their 2019-20 season pass for 2020-21. It also rolled out a new pass protection program insuring skiers against outbreak-related closures and stay-at-home orders that keep them off the hill, as well as injury, pregnancy or military service.

Anyone who renewed prior to the announcement will be refunded the 20 percent, according to the announcement. Plus, eligible buyers working off a payment plan will see the discount applied equally across all payments. Current passholders that opt not to renew for the next year can get a free lift ticket instead.

Those feeling generous don’t have to take the savings. Upon checkout, purchasers can choose to donate the 20 percent to the Hunger Coalition—a Bellevue-based food pantry that has seen demand skyrocket since the pandemic began.

For more information on Sun Valley’s plans—including its pass options—visit sunvalley.com/mountain-passes.

“The upcoming ski season may seem familiar in many ways and quite different in others, and we will continue to update you as we finalize details,” Silva said last week. “We encourage you to reference these channels for frequent updates, and we plan to send another email update on winter operations in October. I look forward to seeing you on the mountain and sharing another safe and enjoyable winter in Sun Valley.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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