By Deb Everts

Concerns over COVID-19 (coronavirus) has changed people’s lives and will continue for an undetermined amount of time.

Residents and businesses in Ellicottville felt it in a big way this past weekend when most of the Mardi Gras and Winter Carnival events were canceled due to the virus. 

With the weekend events scheduled for March 14 and 15, the health crisis could not have hit at a worse time. Families annually flock to Ellicottville for a good time at this time of year, but they were disappointed to find there would be no parade downtown Saturday night or the costume parade at Holiday Valley Sunday. 

The town’s first bicentennial event of the year still took place at Holiday Valley’s main lodge with limited attendance. What little action there was took place at Yodeler slope where the snow bar operated with a limited capacity of 50 percent, and the popular Dummy Downhill was still on. 

Holiday Valley Ski Resort posted on its official Facebook page that the event’s schedule had been updated to reflect growing concerns for public safety. 

“The health and safety of our community members is and always has been our number one priority at Holiday Valley — never more so than now,” the resort’s post said. “As the situation around COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to evolve at a rapid pace, we have implemented numerous protective measures.”

At that time, New York state placed restrictions on large gatherings, but officials reported that it was not yet clear whether these guidelines applied to ski resorts. In the meantime, Holiday Valley remained open for skiing and riding.

That changed March 17 when the resort closed down its skiing operations at the end of the day because of the virus.

“Closing is not from lack of snow because we still have pretty good snow,” said Jane Eshbaugh, director of marketing. “We are going to re-evaluate the situation in about a week. Then, we’ll see what the story is and maybe we’ll be able to reopen, but it’s totally up in the air right now.” 

According to Eshbaugh, the change of activities began prior to Mardi Gras and Winter Carnival weekend. She said they started getting information from state Governor Andrew Cuomo and Cattaraugus County officials sometime last week.

That’s when they went to 50-percent capacity at the lodges by taking out every other chair at the tables to spread people out more. She said the staff at Holiday Valley is definitely keeping up with the cleaning and disinfecting of its facilities. 

“We have people out there all over the place spraying with bleach, wiping up and trying to keep things clean,” she said. “We are emphasizing to our staff to wash their hands and, if they are sick or feeling not well, not to come to work. If they feel uncomfortable coming to work, we suggest they stay home. We are doing what everybody else is doing — trying to obey the recommended edicts.” 

Holiday Valley is honoring any requests to cancel ski school, lift tickets and rental reservations. The resort is offering a credit to anyone who has booked lodging with the resort and has decided to change their plans.

“Each case is a little bit different,” Eshbaugh said. “Some people want to come in the summer and some people want to wait until next year, but we are trying to make it good for everybody.”

Eshbaugh said none of this has been done before and they’re trying to comply with expectations. They are sitting tight to see what happens, and hopefully the whole thing will be over soon.

MEANWHILE, HoliMont Ski Area has been hit hard by the coronavirus as well. Greg Culver, director of marketing, said March 16 was the resort’s last day of skiing for the season, which is about two weeks earlier than planned.

“This is one of the first times in my history that we’ve had to close because of something other than weather or the season ran out,” he said. “The thing that stinks for us the most is we are sitting on awesome snow and we could have opened 44 trails today (March 16).”

According to Culver, HoliMont is pretty much closing up and sending people home. He said the resort is now up against lots of refund requests on weekday passes and pre-purchased tickets that they’ve never had to deal with before.

“It was kind of a roller coaster season where we managed to stitch some good weekends together. Our numbers weren’t what we wanted, but they weren’t horrible and we were kind of hyped that we were able to maintain our snow so well,” he said. “But, now the backlash of this is going to be terrible.”

Staff will have to be let go earlier than anticipated, he said. They didn’t have a good chance to put on their huge sale at their retail store, which is usually during March break.

Culver said many people are upset because they planned on being at the resort all week and enjoying their stay. The programs have been canceled, as well as several bands they had scheduled to perform this weekend and the next. Because of the 50-person limit, the staff can’t plan much. He said it’s difficult to manage how many people are in an area.

In spite of the disappointment of ending the season early, Culver said the staff at HoliMont is excited about some projects they are going to be working on this summer. He said “now they can regroup for next year.”