Across the country, ski resorts will soon open. Chair lifts will get fired up. Ski instructors will line up their pupils. Skiers and snowboarders will be ready to soar and shred. It will be just like any other season — except, not.
The effects of COVID-19 and necessity of altering habits, including social distancing, extends to the mountains. And if the surge in outdoor recreation this past summer was any indication, mountains can expect high demand. How will they accommodate the masses while also restricting capacity and reducing operations and offerings, as necessary?
“COVID is forcing us to reinvent, to reimagine our winter and how we ski,” says Mike Kaplan, CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, which operates the town’s four main ski slopes. While none of those mountains will limit the number of people on any given day, Kaplan is clear: “People should first and foremost bring a commitment to being safe and staying safe.”
More specifically, Kelly Pawlak, the president and CEO of the National Ski Areas Association, which represents over 300 U.S. resorts, says, “That includes staying or going home if they are experiencing any symptoms like fever, sore throat, and muscle aches.”
The responsibility continues on the mountain, wearing masks and abiding by physical distancing protocols. Not only adventurers will be responsible. “Ski areas will reciprocate by training all staff and practicing COVID-related best practices,” Pawlak says.
While you should always check the website of the specific mountain you plan to visit, here’s how some operations are being modified.
You’ll be wise to book lift tickets in advance to ensure a spot, and opt for a weekday when there are typically fewer people. While some mountains, like those in Aspen, are not restricting ticket sales, others are, like Stowe and Okemo in Vermont, in order to manage the number of people on the mountain. And while some resorts will have windows open to physically purchase tickets, most are shifting to mandatory online purchases. Equipment rentals are also largely shifting to advanced online reservations, as is parking, like at Utah’s Snowbird, where a reserved parking spot is required.
Lift Lines and Rides
At Mohawk Mountain in Connecticut, they have conceived new mazes for the lift lines to ensure there’s separation between parties. As a smaller mountain, they don’t have quads or gondolas. “If there’s a single person, that’s their decision if they want to go up with someone else,” says Cassie Schoenknecht, Mohawk’s director of operations. But at larger resorts, such as Snowbird and Crystal Mountain in Washington, capacity on gondolas will be limited and only traveling parties will be able to ride lifts together.
Private lessons and classes are mostly still being offered, albeit at smaller sizes, and with advanced reservations. At some mountains, like Vail in Colorado, you’ll be expected to confirm an online self-health screening, just as instructors are. Most child care and smaller programs will be suspended.
“Dress warm because our restaurant facilities are going to be extremely capacity-limited and getting inside to warm up or take a long lunch is not something you can depend on,” Kaplan says of Aspen’s plans. It’s the same story at nearly every resort, large and small. Restaurants and lodges will have limited seating and meal options, most full-service bars will be closed, transactions will be cashless, and masks will be required unless literally eating.
The good news is, many mountains already have apps and other methods in place to pre-order food, and some are also encouraging skiers to bring their meals.
General Etiquette and Expectations
Above all else, be patient and flexible this season. “If your preferred ski resort is sold out, consider checking out another mountain,” suggests Kemp Dowdy, the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe’s outdoor adventure specialist.
Although he’s expecting to see more snowshoeing and sledding requests this year, he shares this great reminder: “Some of the best ski experiences can be found in undiscovered and unexpected destinations that you may have not considered in the past.”
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