With resorts beginning to open up across America, skiers and boarders are preparing for a winter season which will look a little different to normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many of the ways we enjoy ourselves, and ski hills are no exception. The good news for skiers and boarders is that, unlike many other entertainment and sport activities, all the major U.S. ski resorts are planning to open this winter season – offering the chance to get some much-needed fresh turns, clear alpine air and good exercise over the coming months.
Since ski hills were forced to close early last March as the pandemic swept across the country, resorts have had several months to prepare new practices and rules to enable them to open safely for the winter 2020/21 season. This does mean that skiers can expect a slightly difference experience to what they’re used to – but for many the changes will be worth it to enjoy a full season on the slopes.
Plan In Advance To Ensure Access
The main differences that skiers will experience this season will be driven by the need to guard against overcrowding and ensure social distancing is maintained at all times. In practice, this means reduced capacity on the slopes and may require skiers to plan their days on the hill in advance.
Each resort has different rules in place regarding reservations and ticket sales, so skiers are best advised to check with the customer service teams at their preferred location before planning any trips. The two main US resort groupings – Vail Resorts (with 33 US resorts including Vail itself, Stowe, Park City, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge) and Alterra Mountain Co. (spanning 15 US resorts including Stratton, Deer Valley, Mammoth Mountain and Steamboat, as well as 28 partner destinations) – are taking contrasting approaches.
Vail Resort’s Epic Pass holders will be required to book their days on the hill in advance, receiving seven ‘priority days’ which they can use across the whole season. They will then be allowed to book as many ski days as they like, availability depending, a week in advance for each week of the season. Reassuringly for Epic Pass holders, Vail CEO Rob Katz said “For the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to”.
Those with Alterra’s Ikon Pass will have to check with their chosen destinations, as the company is allowing its resorts to use their own discretion when it comes to requiring advance reservations. As it stands, most of Alterra’s resorts are not planning for Ikon Pass holders to book ski days in advance. A spokesperson for Montana’s Big Sky, one of Alterra’s partner resorts, said “With 5,850 acres and 38 lifts, we offer more than an acre per skier on average and feel confident we can handle our normal volume of skiers”.
While seasons pass holders are likely to get their desired days on the mountain, the upcoming season is not looking so rosy for occasional skiers or spontaneous trips. Both Vail and Alterra are limiting the availability of day-skiing passes, and in most cases skiers will have to purchase their lift tickets well in advance in order to secure a spot.
Social Distancing A Key Feature Of Upcoming Season
When it comes to the actual skiing experience, the main differences will be in crowded spaces such as lift lines, gondolas, lodges and restaurants – where social distancing and mask wearing is likely to be required. Most resorts are reducing capacity in enclosed spaces and asking guests to remain within their own parties.
For example, chairlifts and gondolas are unlikely to be filled to capacity, with guests required to upload only with their immediate party, or otherwise with appropriate social distancing. On busy days such as weekends and holidays, this is does have the potential to increase lift lines – which will also have to be socially distanced.
Skiers may need to plan their breaks in advance too – with many on-mountain restaurants requiring guests to pre-book in order to secure a table. The alpine dining experience is likely to be altogether different in many cases, with resorts expanding their outdoor heated dining spaces and offering more ‘grab and go’ options.
For example, Aspen’s Sundeck restaurant will offer expanded outdoor dining with heated tents, while Sugarbush will provide private heated cabanas for rent. Steamboat’s mobile eateries Pizza Ranger and Taco Beast are also likely to prove popular this season.
Unfortunately for partygoers, the apres-ski experience is likely to be very different this winter, with socially distanced tables, no dancing allowed and early closures. Many resorts are not offering a full bar service, with only pre-packaged beer and wine available.
Despite the changes to be expected this coming season, after many cancelled vacations and travel restrictions since the pandemic began, skiers and boarders will just be relieved that they can get back on the slopes at all.
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