COVID will affect outdoor activities
Last week’s teaser of a snowstorm was a reminder that the all-important Methow Valley winter recreation season can’t be far behind.
The state’s coronavirus protocols remain in place, with implications for outdoor activities. Nonetheless, winter enthusiasts are expected to begin showing up in November. Operators of the valley’s major seasonal attractions — the Methow Trails Nordic skiing system, the Winthrop Rink and Loup Loup Ski Bowl — plan to be ready for them, individually and in unison.
For the first time, the three organizations are teaming up to offer a “Try Winter Pass.” The pass is a three-punch card with one punch for use at each facility. The pass costs $76 — and comes free with the purchase of an annual pass at any of the three activities.
And don’t forget the Methow’s expanding fat bike trail system, as well as snowmobiling and snowshoeing opportunities in and around the valley.
Following is an overview of the coming attractions.
Methow Trails is getting ready for winter with hopes for a more-or-less normal Nordic skiing season, but with the realization that ongoing COVID-19 precautions may have an impact.
Erika Kercher Halm, Methow Trails’ outreach and access manager, said the Methow Trails system of more than 130 miles of groomed trails will operate similarly to the past — with a few adjustments including an online ticketing system. Annual passes are on sale now. Prices go up on Nov. 1.
“We don’t want to encourage visitation if it’s not safe, but we want to have all the systems set up,” Halm said. “We can’t pretend people aren’t going to come here.”
Get in touch
• Loup Loup Ski Bowl: http://www.skitheloup.com; (509) 557-3401.
• Methow Trails: http://www.methowtrails.org; (509) 996-3287.
• Winthrop Rink: http://www.winthropicerink.org; (509) 996-4199.
• Methow Fatbike: http://www.facebook.com/methowfatbike
Methow Trails Executive Director James DeSalvo told the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce last week that despite coronavirus restrictions, “we have seen pretty much record use of our trails systems in spring, summer and fall” — which augurs well for winter.
“We’re in for a really busy winter,” DeSalvo predicted. He said the trail system could be open from 100 to 150 days this season, depending on conditions.
Social distancing is usually not an issue on the trails, although people may need to be aware of coronavirus protocols at trailheads. “We encourage people to spread out at the trailheads,” Halm said. Trailhead signs will ask users to be aware of crowding and keep appropriate physical distancing.
DeSalvo said there will be a new warming hut on the trail system, location yet to be determined. He added that some trail improvements have been made including thinning overhead foliage to help snow accumulation.
DeSalvo said some traditional winter events such as the Ski to the Sun race in February and the Methow Trails Film Festival in May remain on the calendar for now.
“We don’t anticipate any interruptions to our operations,” DeSalvo said. “If there is any place to be safe, this is probably it.”
There will be no at-par exchange for Canadian currency this year.
The Winthrop Rink, which was closed all summer because of COVID-19 concerns, is expected to open for winter operations on Nov. 7, according to rink General Manager Steve Bondi.
“We’re planning for a busy season,” Bondi said, albeit one the incorporates coronavirus precautions. Youth hockey is expected to start on Nov. 15, he said. Registration ends Oct. 30.
Under the state’s most recently issued guidelines for sports activities, ice hockey is regarded as a “moderate risk sport,” with some competition allowed. Okanogan County is classified as a moderate risk county.
Sno-Park permits will be available for purchase beginning Nov. 1, the Washington State Parks Winter Recreation Program announced. Sno-Park permits allow visitors to park in specially cleared, designated parking lots with access to areas around the state for cross-country skiing, skijoring, fat-tire biking, snowmobiling, snow biking, dog sledding, snowshoeing, tubing, snow play and other winter recreation activities.
The Discover Pass is no longer required to accompany the daily Sno-Park permit in Sno-Parks on State Parks property. A daily Sno-Park permit costs $20 per day. A seasonal Non-motorized Sno-Park Permit costs 40.
To purchase a Sno-Park permit online, visit https://parks.state.wa.us/winter. For a list of vendors and their locations, visit https://www.parks.state.wa.us/147/Sno-Park-permit-vendors.
“We’re working on the best plan to maximize use,” Bondi said at last week’s Winthrop Chamber of Commerce meeting — including youth hockey, adult hockey and public open skate programs. Scrimmages, intra-squad games and league games will be allowed, Bondi said — but tournaments will not be allowed under current restrictions.
For the past several years, the rink has hosted adult and youth hockey tournaments throughout the season, generating significant revenues for the rink and bringing lots of visitor income to the community.
“We can’t rely on large tournaments as in the past,” Bondi said. He said he hopes to see some groups renting the rink.
Only supervised activities are allowed, health screening will be required, masks must be worn at all times except when skaters are on the ice and appropriately distanced, and social distancing must be practiced at all times by staff and participants in the building, on the ice, in the parking lot.
The general public won’t be able to come into the rink building. The rental shop and snack bar will not be open. There will be tents in the area where the bleachers are now, Bondi said, where skaters can lace up.
Nordic team meeting
The Methow Valley Nordic Team will host an online, informational meeting for all new and returning families on Monday (Oct. 26) at 5 p.m. Contact Junior Team Director Leslie Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 996-6000 to get the link and for additional information.
A big change at the rink this year, Bondi said, will be the installation of a new vinyl liner, preprinted with all the lines for an ice hockey playing area, that will be laid down under the ice surface — so the lines won’t have to be painted on the ice as in the past, Bondi said. Nov. 3 is the target date to being installing the liner, Bondi said, with ice surfacing to begin shortly thereafter.
This year, all donations made to the Winthrop Rink during the Give Methow campaign will go towards the vinyl liner.
Bondi said the rink needs to replace the dasher boards — the boards surrounding the rink surface — which were installed in 2006 and were purchased used at the time.
The rink is making a Youth Athletic Facilities grant request to the state Recreation and Conservation Office, which funds recreational projects in communities around the state on a matching funds basis, to purchase new dasher boards. The rink will have to come up with local matching funds or in-kind contributions, Bondi said.
The rink is owned by the town, but is operated under a contract agreement by a nonprofit association. The town’s five-year management contract with the rink organization is now in its fifth year and expires in June.
The Winthrop Town Council supported spending about $6,800 of federal CARES Act funds the town received to purchase outdoor equipment such as heaters and benches.
Loup Loup Ski Bowl
The alpine ski area is usually the last winter activity to get doing, depending on when enough snow falls to safely navigate the slopes. Meanwhile, work will continue on a new day lodge.
General Manager Dave Betts told the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce last week that the ski area expects to get its annual operating permits soon. “We’re proceeding as normal,” Betts said.
Because of coronavirus concerns, Betts said, the quad chairlift will operate at one-half capacity. The poma and rope tow will not be affected, he said. The popular luge run will be available to groups of four or more, he said. Ski lessons will be available.
Don’t forget that the Loup also offers Nordic skiing trails.
Betts said the alpine ski team’s season is “a question mark at this point,” but that some competition may be possible
Other COVID protocols will be in place, he said, adding that he anticipates that participants will be aware of and adhere to appropriate guidelines.
The Loup Loup Ski Education Association, the nonprofit that operates the ski bowl, launched a campaign last October to raise $1 million for a new day lodge. The new building will be 50% larger and offer more amenities than the old Wolf Lodge.
The foundation has raised about $800,000 of the $1 million needed to build the new day lodge, Betts said. It was hoped that construction would be completed for this season, but delays put the project behind schedule, he said.