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Schweitzer Mountain Resort shuts down twilight skiing after noncompliance with COVID-19 measures

Skiers ride up Schweitzer Mountain’s Great Escape quad chair on March 6, 2020.   (Eli Francovich)

Twilight skiing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort has been called off next weekend due to noncompliance with mask and social distancing policies, the resort announced Sunday.

“The bottom line is, the rules are the rules and we need everybody to comply with them, and it’s not happening,” said Dig Chrismer, marketing manager at Schweitzer.

In a Facebook post Sunday morning, the resort said “due to an overwhelming lack of compliance with our mask policies and social distancing,” twilight skiing will not be offered over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend from Jan. 15-17. Planned fireworks will take place Saturday, but must be enjoyed from condos and the parking lot, according to the resort.

Schweitzer requires skiers and snowboarders to wear face coverings when they are unable to socially distance from people outside of their household.

“I will not continue to tolerate the verbal abuse that has been directed towards our staff as they have attempted to enforce our safety requirements,” wrote Tom Chasse, president and CEO. “We hope this will only be a ‘pause’ but we will need to reassess our approach to twilight skiing before we commit to any future dates.”

In early December, Schweitzer threatened to close unless skiers and snowboarders wore face coverings when waiting in lift lines and inside the resort. Through Dec. 11, Schweitzer allowed season pass holders to roll their pass forward a year if they didn’t want to cover their faces.

Since that initial threat, Chrismer said that day skiers and snowboarders, who are often season pass holders, have been supportive and complied with the mask requirements.

She said day skiers are 95% to 98% compliant, but twilight skiers are often refusing to comply.

“What we’ve noticed with twilight skiing is that people aren’t thinking it’s serious,” Chrismer said. “There just doesn’t seem to be that same sense of urgency from our night-time skiers.”

Consequences like warnings and pulling passes from frequent mask rule violators has not been as effective as staff hoped, Chrismer said.

Under normal circumstances, Schwitzer would see about 5,000 people during the day on a Saturday, and maybe 500 skiers or snowboarders on a busy night. During COVID-19, restrictions on the number of day tickets offered has created an increase in demand for night skiing sessions. However, the number of patrons at night still pales in comparison to day skiing numbers.

Twilight skiers and snowboarders can use two lifts for two lit runs and the terrain park.

Mountain staff have continuously had to ask customers to social distance and wear masks, causing a strain on employees, Chrismer said.

“Our staff is having to make the same requests to the same people over and over again,” she said. “That’s what’s wearing everybody down.”

Staffing during the coronavirus pandemic has also been a struggle, Chrismer said. Anytime someone is exposed to COVID-19 it causes a “huge” ripple effect, she said, adding that keeping crews safe and healthy is also a large part of the decision to pause twilight skiing.

“There are consequences, and we need to take this seriously,” Chrismer said of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

There had been nearly 18,000 cases of COVID-19 in North Idaho as of Friday, according to the Panhandle Health District. There have been 192 deaths, and 94 people were hospitalized as of Friday.

Elective surgeries were canceled at Kootenai Health in mid-December through Sunday, due to a strain on the hospital system from an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Schweitzer staff will “pause to reflect and regroup” before twilight skiing reopens to see what can work to keep both staff and patrons safe, Chrismer said.

“Our goal from the beginning is we want to keep skiing and riding until April,” she said. “We just need to stop the madness for a weekend.”