The transition from summer into autumn in Vermont during COVID has been as weird as it has been everywhere else, I suppose. Interestingly, our sales have been up and we have been very busy throughout the COVID debacle. We're extremely grateful for the patronage and customer loyalty we've seen over the past several months. It's allowed us to keep the shop running, our staff employed, and things operating almost as usual.
Vermont has been extremely proactive (some would say offensive, and we get it) in working to keep our state and areas safe. Understandably, the travel restrictions that have been in place have not been ideal for everyone, but we continually have the lowest infection rates in the nation, so something is working. That being said, Vermont needs tourism. There isn't any other industry in this state that sustains the tax revenue and local economies the way that tourism does. Almost every industry in Vermont relies on tourism, and winter tourism in particular, to remain viable. That means people from the now restricted regions need to be allowed in so that the Vermont economy is safe. However, more people typically means higher likelihood of infection rates climbing which can and will result in resort closures like we saw last year.
Because of increased infection rates, along with the failures and increases in some surrounding states, the travel restrictions have increased. Vermont has been very transparent and helpful in educating the public with the maps they provide as to who is welcome to travel freely, and who Vermont requires to quarantine either before arrival or once here. Because enforcement of the travel restrictions isn't widespread, it's difficult to know what impact they have had on the success we have seen in Vermont compared to other states.
Vermont has also mandated the wearing of masks. I strongly believe this mandate has had the largest effect on keeping our COVID numbers low. We require all customers to wear a mask while in the shop and we've had only a couple of occasions where people refuse. They're asked to leave unfortunately. In our case, I'm not willing to jeopardize the safety of our staff or our business. Still, even with the mask mandate, COVID persists in Vermont with some isolated increases of cases throughout the state. With the influx of people in the coming winter months therein lies a massive potential for large increases in infection rates. If we see these increases, there is little doubt that the resorts and seasons will be shut down to counter. While that would be inconvenient for the tourists, it would be catastrophic for small businesses such as ours.
The answer here is personal accountability and responsibility. I don't believe that we have the right to tell people they can't travel to their vacation homes and I think it's probably also not awesome to tell people to stay away from vacation rentals. I do, however, think we have the right to require that people act like caring, compassionate, thinking adults and it is the responsibility of everyone to police themselves and each other. The failure to do so will 100%, absolutely, without a doubt end the ski season and destroy the economy of an entire state for quite a while.
We're excited for the snow, for the skiing and riding, and to see all of our winter friends. We're eager to get back to normal and have an aprés beer or 4. We all want to put this madness behind us and move on. Until then, a small amount of common sense is needed to make sure we have some sort of a ski season. Wear a mask when in public and where required, stay home if you're sick or have been exposed, don't mingle in large groups (weddings, parties, etc.). Essentially, don't be selfish and arrogant and believe you're above these issues. The entire winter industry (and the rest of the world) needs you to not be the problem. We need everyone to be the solution.
Patrick Ross is President and Owner of Tygart Mountain Sports. He holds BA degrees in Secondary Education Social Studies, History, and Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Masters of History from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He's been an avid skier since early childhood and has more than 18 yrs experience in the ski industry.