RED LODGE, Mont. - The slopes at Red Lodge Mountain were open for business Friday, for the first day of the ski season.

This year, the opening of the slopes isn't just a sign of the changing seasons, it's also a sign of hope for local business owners.

Small businesses all across the country have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the town of red lodge is no exception. But today's opening for winter sports enthusiasts at Red Lodge Mountain could drive more business to restaurants, bars, and hobby shops in town.

Spencer Weimar, Assistant General Manager at Red Lodge Mountain, is excited about opening day on the slopes, because of what it means for the town.

"We're an economic driver for this community in the winter, and that's why we want to stay open," Weimar said. "We're in it together as a community, Red Lodge as a whole, and we want to help lead and set that example as a way to know that we can stay open, and show people how to safely operate a ski area."

Tricia Nix Jackson is the General Manager of Bogart's in downtown Red Lodge, and she said business owners have felt the impact of the pandemic.

"We've seen a little bit of a decline," Nix Jackson said. "The hardest part is probably being at 75% or 50% capacity."

Nix Jackson said businesses are looking forward to a bit of a boost thanks to the ski lodge starting up again, but that they still plan to take it one day at a time.

"It's hard to say what will happen going forward," Nix Jackson said. "You never know what's gonna happen. We're just rolling with the punches."

COVID-19's impact is felt at the mountain as well. The lodge is following stricter guidelines this year to prevent the spread of the virus. Masks are required when waiting in line at the ski lift, indoor capacity is limited, and through a campaign called, "Your Lodge Is Your Car," the lodge is encouraging skiers to take breaks to warm up in their vehicles, instead of inside the lodge.

But the cold was not a huge factor on opening day. It may almost be December, but there wasn't very much snow on the ground. The lodge had to put their snow maker to work to have enough powder to make the slopes fun for skiers and snowboarders.

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