Camps and clubs from across the country flock to Timberline’s Palmer Glacier in the summer months for offseason on-snow training. So when the coronavirus pandemic shut down recreational spaces across the globe, including ski resorts, the issue of summer camps’ viability came into question. Will Mt. Hood open, and if so, can it operate under COVID-19 restrictions? Would families be able to travel from all corners of the country to participate? What would social distancing look like on the hill? Are campers even going to be allowed on snow? These questions and more put a pause on planning, and many summer camps had to pivot in order to accommodate their customers.
Prior to COVID-19, ELITEAM already had a plan in place to offer online summer programs in order to expand its base and get more kids ready for fall training, no matter where they lived. In the time of social distancing, an online summer camp is a convenient option for families that want to avoid travel and campers that want to focus on strength training.
For athletes that still hope to get on snow, training at Mt. Hood’s Timberline Ski Area is now a possibility. On May 15, Timberline ran its lifts under tight restrictions for the first time in months, testing the waters to see if skiing at the resort this summer would actually be possible. Social distancing rules such as entering the parking lot after passing a checkpoint, maintaining a six-foot distance in lift lines, and always covering faces and hands with goggles, masks, and gloves, were well-followed by recreational skiers that reserved passes for the weekend. This signaled to Timberline’s team that they were ready to move into phase two of operations, inviting camps, clubs, and national projects back to Palmer Glacier.
“It is going to be an option,” said Timberline Marketing Director, John Burton. “We don’t know exactly what the experience is going to be. It is going to be different, but there is going to be an experience.”
According to Burton, the Timberline team has been viewing the challenges of summer operations in three categories – terrain, capacity, and social distancing. Burton and his team say terrain is a non-issue. Palmer Glacier did receive some ice damage over the course of the winter, but repairs have been well underway for months, and Burton says the glacier will be more than ready for training by the time camps arrive at Hood during the first few weeks in June.
The total operating capacity of the ski area remains uncertain. Decisions rely entirely on demand. So far, they have not seen any over the top reservations in terms of pre-booking and lane space from incoming camps, but there is potential that international travel restrictions could increase demand if American athletes and teams cannot travel to other summer hotspots, such as Chile, Argentina, Europe, and New Zealand.
“We’re watching very closely in comparison to last year so we aren’t biting off more than they can chew,” said Burton. “We still need to see what the true interest of the alpine community really is, and what not traveling means. We’re getting the message that basically anybody within 20 hours is just going to drive and no one else is coming, but maybe, maybe not.”
Social distancing will prove to be the ski area’s biggest challenge. Again, rules and regulations surrounding operations depend entirely on demand.
“Are we going to open earlier? Are we going to run the lifts in shifts,” speculated Burton. “We’ve been talking about these concepts with camps and the national team, bouncing ideas back and forth with no solid plan as to what that will look like because numbers are still a factor.”
All in all, operations at Mt. Hood rely entirely on the camps’ collective cooperation and communication. Thus far, popular camps such as Keely’s Camp For Girls, Ligety Weibrecht Ski Camp, Eric Sailer Ski Camp, and Mount Hood Summer Ski Camps are still planning to get underway, having pivoted in order to accommodate rules and regulations put forth by the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Camps Association (ACA), and the state of Oregon.
For example, many of these camps typically operate as overnight camps, with families and campers who travel from all over the country to participate. But on May 15, the same day that Timberline’s lifts started spinning, the Oregon Health Authority issued a prohibition against overnight summer camps due to the coronavirus pandemic. Day camps are still allowed.
“With the reopening of summer camps in Oregon, for the safety of the children and staff involved, it was decided to allow only daytime operations as an initial step,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor’s office, wrote to Oregon Live in an email. “We are having ongoing conversations about how nighttime operations can be implemented safely. If this first step proves successful, we will revisit whether to issue new guidance around the safe overnight operation of summer camps in the coming weeks.”
Luckily for Keely’s Camp Director, Keely Kelleher, she already had a plan in place to shift her overnight program to a day camp.
“We want parents to feel safe and we want families to feel safe so we’re taking the strategy of being socially responsible,” said Kelleher.
Campers are encouraged to travel with their families so that campers and parents have more control over practicing social distancing when not on snow with their coaches. To try and keep the camp running as close to “normal” as possible, Kelleher and her coaching staff are planning to operate post-training afternoon activities over the digital platform Zoom, for things like group workouts, video analysis, and tuning workshops.
“We would help parents set up lodging in the area however we need to,” said Kelleher. “Come out as a family, and after training meet online with us and during our set up sessions. If campers want to do the afternoon sessions they can but if they want to stay with their family they can stay with their family.”
Erich Sailer Ski Camp and Ligety Weibrecht Ski Camp are pushing similar messaging to her campers and families: Come out with your parents or guardian and make summer training a family experience to better ensure the safety of their staff and the athletes.
“Each family must be self-sufficient and provide their own lodging, meals, and transportation including transportation to and from Timberline Ski Area every day,” Miguel Azcarate wrote in Ligety Weibrecht’s latest coronavirus update. “Campers must be capable of independently managing their own equipment, loading and unloading the chairlift, as well as able to practice and understand the importance of enhanced personal hygiene, social distancing, daily health screening, and wearing a mask when appropriate.”
On top of Timberline’s social distancing guidelines, camps must now operate under the Oregon Health Authority’s detailed set of guidelines for day camps. For example, programs to screen campers and staffers for symptoms will be required. Daily logs with information from each within the camp must be kept to enable contact tracing if the virus is contracted and needs to be monitored. Camps will be asked to split campers into groups of 10 or fewer, and staffers must work with the same group as much as possible.
No matter how many restrictions camps may face, if the lifts are running, the community is committed to doing whatever they can to make it happen.
“The kids want to train,” said Eric Sailer Ski Camp Director Martina Sailer. “Their parents want them to train or want them to have camp. And frankly the coaches need income. So that’s my motivation to make it happen.”
Keeping in mind that Governor Kate Brown could pull the plug on Timberline’s operations at any moment, Kelleher says it’s the responsibility of the camp community to come together and make sure that everyone is following health and safety protocols so that any kid or family that wants to train has the opportunity.
“We all run our camps independently but in the end we are all doing this because we love what we do and this is our livelihood,” said Kelleher. “If we’re not a team player on the mountain as an industry as a whole, then everyone is going to suffer and we’re not going to be able to operate at all. So the camp industry needs to step up and all work towards us being safe.”
For a full list of how camps are pivoting in order to operate under COVID-19 restrictions, visit our Camps page or the website of the camp you have chosen or plan on attending.