New California COVID-19 order shakes up local ski resorts

Mammoth Mountain and several other California ski resorts remained open Monday while trimming operations to fit a new state COVID-19 order. But skiers, boarders and leisure travelers are banned from overnight stays in lodgings in Southern California and the Eastern Sierra.

“All existing reservations from Monday, December 7, 2020 are required to be cancelled and no reservations are allowed to be taken,” said a statement from officials in Mono County, which includes Mammoth Mountain and the town of Mammoth Lakes.

“This local order is consistent with intent of the state order, which was less clear,”
Dr. Tom Boo, Mono County’s public health officer, said Sunday in a statement.

Like the state order that was announced Thursday and imposed at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, the short-term rental lodging ban does not cover essential workers, homeless and other displaced people.

“Everybody needs to be prepared to be flexible. Things are going to change fast. Check everything,” said Tim LeRoy, spokesman for Mammoth Mountain.

In the Lake Tahoe area — part of the Greater Sacramento region, as defined by the new restrictions — resorts remain open with fewer restrictions. But that could change in coming days if that region’s ICU bed capacity falls below 15%, triggering tighter rules. Some resorts in North Lake Tahoe are in Nevada, where regulations have been less stringent.

Badger Pass Ski Area, near Yosemite, has announced its downhill and cross-country operations will remain closed through the winter of 2020-21 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As hospitalizations soar and Sacramento struggles to get the pandemic in check, several ski and lodging industry executives said they’re still seeking clarity from the state on what is permitted, what is discouraged and what is forbidden.

Mammoth Mountain remains open for skiing and snowboarding, but its lodging “will be limited to homeowners and critical infrastructure services,” a resort statement said. For the 21-day duration of the current state order, LeRoy said, the resort won’t be taking reservations for lodging, which include the Mammoth Mountain Inn, the Village Lodge, Juniper Springs Resort, the Westin Monache Resort, Tamarack Lodge and a collection of rental homes.

The Mammoth resort’s food and beverage operations are take-out only. Its retailers will be open at 20% of capacity (before Monday, that figure was 25%), and lodges can be accessed for restrooms, lockers and guest services, but “guests will be required to limit their time inside.”

Mono is among the 11 counties in the state order’s newly defined Southern California region. In the wake of questions about the order, that county issued a “clarification” to make clear that condo owners are free to stay in their residences, but that leisure visitors should stay away for the duration of the 21-day order — not just from hotels but also from all short-term lodging, including rental units, residences, RV parks and campsites.

According to the county clarification, “There shall be no renting or leasing of a [l]odging [f]acility for leisure or vacation travel,” and it gives county officials the authority to decide who should be exempted as an essential worker.

In hopes the order will be lifted after 21 days, Mammoth Mountain plans to resume accepting reservations beginning Dec. 27. Information on reservation changes and cancellations at the resort is offered on its website.

The state order for Southern California also covers the mountains closest to Los Angeles, where resorts often focus on day-trip visitors and don’t operate lodging. Skiing, boarding and sledding continue at Snow Valley and Big Bear Mountain Resort (which includes Snow Summit and Bear Mountain) in the San Bernardino Mountains. In the San Gabriel Mountains, Mountain High in Wrightwood is open.

It’s unclear how well lodging operators understand or intend to follow the governor’s order. When a reporter called the Travelodge by Wyndham in Big Bear Lake on Monday to ask whether leisure guests were being accepted, the answer was yes. The answer was the same at Big Bear Getaway, a cabin and vacation rental company.

State officials have urged Californians, with increasing urgency, to “stay in your county if you can. Don’t drive more than 2-3 hours.”

The state’s guidance says that when a regional stay home order is in effect, as it is in Southern California, “hotels and lodging can only offer accommodation for COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures, treatment measures, accommodation for essential workers, or providing housing solutions, including measures to protect homeless populations.”

At a news conference Monday, Newsom was asked whether leisure stays in hotels are discouraged or legally forbidden in regions with ICU availability is less than 15%. “Lodging can be open for essential workers only, not for tourists, not for leisure,” the governor said.

He was followed by Mark Ghaly, the state secretary of Health and Human Services, who said in those regions, “We ask you not to travel for leisure.” He added that the policy would be clarified soon.

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