Escaping to the Mountains Amidst a Pandemic

MacKay taking a selfie break mid run.

     Roderick MacKay, 74, felt similar about the overall climate. He’s been skiing the mountain for nearly 60 years. “Everyone’s supposed to be wearing a mask and most people do most of the time,” he said. “People get away from the crowds, are by themselves and you know, drop the mask and get the fresh air. But they’re putting up with it.” He added, “People are out there to have fun. They’re skiing, they’re going crazy on the hill and that’s a good thing.” 

     As an employee, Fleck has observed unwavering enthusiasm in the crowds that do make the trip. “The atmosphere isn’t altogether that different,” he said. “We still get to see regulars, but it’s certainly quieter than in previous years.”

     Maraia Nason, 20, grew up not far from Shawnee Peak. Nason’s first experience snowboarding was in January 2021. As a first-time visitor to the ski resort, she said she was likely to be nervous, regardless of COVID-19. Even with these nerves about the unknown, Nason enjoyed herself. “Honestly, when I was up on the slope, my mind was in a different place,” she said. “All my worries disappeared when I ventured up that mountain. It’s easier to let go of those fears because you don’t have to think about them constantly when you’re going down a slope.”

Nason and her friend, Abi Davis, posing for a photo after a run down the bunny slope.

     There are people who still have reservations about venturing out.  Numbers at Shawnee have shown a decrease. “The number of customers has certainly decreased rapidly amid the pandemic,” Fleck said. “I recall in previous years on New Year’s Day there would be so many patrons it would be difficult to walk around the restaurant. This year’s New Years was more akin to a regular weekday, rather than a huge holiday. Not only were there less people inside, but also less people on the mountain as a whole due to the pandemic.”

     But others who have gone found nothing to be afraid of. “I would tell them to go,” Vanhise said. “I feel like Shawnee is handling it very well. I don’t want to say that Shawnee doesn’t put up with people not wearing a mask. But they definitely point it out and try to advise people the best they can to pull up their mask. Most people wear masks anyways just because its cold and the closest you’ll be to people is waiting in lines.” 

     Fleck shared similar words of encouragement. “Overall, it seems people are still happy to go to the mountain while so many other activities have been severely limited,” Fleck said. “Out on the mountain, people don’t seem to have much of a problem social distancing. It’s not like you’re breathing on each other too much when you’re flying down a mountain.”