As an activity in the Covid-19 era, skiing has a lot going for it — it’s outdoors, people naturally distance by spreading out all over a mountain, and they’re used to covering their faces. What’s tricky is everything around skiing: renting gear, waiting in lift lines, sharing gondolas and chairs, crowding at mid-mountain restaurants, socializing at après spots.
And so mountain resorts across North America are adjusting their operations to the new reality, from restricting the daily number of skiers and riders to modifying schedules — Jackson Hole, Wyo., for example, will load some lower-mountain lifts earlier so guests can spread out faster.
Naturally, skiers and riders are perplexed: What will the experience be like? If you decide to go for snow, here are a few tips to help you make the most of this unusual season.
1. Think ahead
This winter, forget about impulse decisions to waltz in for a few runs: Many resorts won’t have walk-up ticket sales and reservations will be key for almost everything from lifts to rental to lunch.
In Utah, the road to Alta and Snowbird will be closed to uphill traffic once the parking lots are full. Snowbird has online reservations for parking and many January and February weekends are already full.
Among the big multimountain pass groups, Epic, which is run by Vail Resorts, is instituting a system that prioritizes its passholders. “We’re confident that for the majority of days we’ll be able to accommodate everybody who wants to visit,” Johnna Muscente, the company’s director of communications, said in a telephone interview. “But we need to plan for every day: the busy holiday weekend, the powder day.” The Epic portal acts as a clearinghouse to book days, though you should also check each resort’s website or app for targeted directives.
Ikon holders must also make advance reservations via the Ikon website. Some popular ski areas on that pass, such as Copper Mountain, in Colorado, and Killington, in Vermont, are also implementing advance parking reservations along with controlled day lift sales, so make sure to get your ducks in a row before showing up at the mountain.
As for the Mountain Collective, it is instructing its pass holders to check with the resorts they are planning to visit. As the Ski Vermont trade group put it: “Know before you go.”
Similarly, check what your planned area’s policies are on distancing in lift lines and whether they will be loading the lifts in a way that lets skiers from different groups remain separate.
2. Make the most of newly flexible policies
With several major airlines getting rid of change fees, many skiers are securing cheap flights, just in case. Similarly, you can book many accommodations with no-penalty cancellations that allow for last-minute pivots — a chain hotel might be more flexible than an Airbnb, but it might also feature more common areas where social distancing is harder.
It could also be a good time to join a ski club to alleviate planning headaches. “We spent the spring negotiating with tour operators for never-before terms and conditions,” Joe Gilbert, co-chair of the Ski Club of Washington, D.C.’s Western/international committee, said over Zoom. “If there are any coronavirus-related issues, we have force-majeure clauses, so our members are protected.” Another advantage of ski clubs is that they often have already pocketed rooms at resort lodgings — remember, capacity will be limited in many places and there could be a pinch on certain weekends.
3. Check the state restrictions
This won’t be the year to fly to Europe’s megaresorts or Japanese powder fields, but British Columbia or Quebec are likely to be off-limits, too, as the border between the United States and Canada remains closed for now. Domestic quarantine restrictions willmake interstate travel tricky as well. Right now, for example, New Mexico requires a two-week quarantine for visitors from high-risk states (and that means only Hawaii residents can skip it, as of Nov. 23). Vermont has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the country, with either a 14-day quarantine or a shorter quarantine with a negative test. Check each state’s official website before even thinking of heading out.
4. Think small
Popular resorts like Park City, in Utah, Vail, in Colorado, or Mammoth, in California, can draw big crowds on weekends and holidays. Since they will operate at partial capacity, you may not be able to go on your preferred dates. (Some mountains are guaranteeing tickets to people who stay in resort-owned lodging, while others are not. Again, make sure to check.)
Why not venture elsewhere? Brad Wilson, general manager of Idaho’s Bogus Basin, pointed out on the phone that “nationally, there is a sense that small resorts will get a bump in business this year. It’s the soul of skiing,” he added. Maybe this is the time to finally try fiercely independent Wolf Creek, which boasts the most snow in Colorado and is implementing a gradual opening starting with just lifts and bathrooms — soul of skiing, indeed.
5. Bring your own
If you have your own gear, bring it, because rentals are going to be a bit of a hassle. Likewise, be ready to boot up in your car since locker rooms are likely to be either closed or restricted. In fact, think of your car as a home base and stock it with items that used to be easy to get on the slopes: water, snacks, tissues, sunscreen, lunch.
6. Plan for lunch al fresco
“Be ready to be outside all day, and that includes eating,” said Tim LeRoy, a spokesman for California’s Big Bear and Mammoth resorts, over Zoom. Colorado’s Monarch and Arapahoe Basin are among the several areas preparing to set up food trucks in parking lots. Others will set up roaming food stations on the slopes: In addition to its Taco Beast snowcat, Steamboat, in Colorado, will welcome the new Pizza Ranger, where people can either pre-order full pies or buy slices. In Utah, Powder Mountain is planning to move some food stations around its ski area to engage guests in fun scavenger hunts.
7. Book a lesson
Lessons are never a bad idea, no matter how advanced you are, but this season they may also have practical repercussions as enrolling in ski school may be a way to secure access to a resort during busy periods. Note that some signature instruction programs may be suspended — Taos Ski Valley, for example, is not offering its famous Ski Week but only private instruction — and that class sizes might be smaller.
8. If all else fails …
Book an entire resort. Utah’s Eagle Point is usually open from Friday through Sunday or Monday, but this year you can rent the whole place the rest of the week. A cool $10,000 a day gets you lift tickets, rentals and staff for up to 200 people.