Fall foliage is peaking at the Killington Ski Resort in Vermont.
Burlington Free Press
Winter is coming, and many ski resorts around the country are set to open soon, so it’s time to start thinking about your skiing plans for some much-needed fun during these tough times.
Keystone, A-Basin, Loveland and Wolf Creek in Colorado have already opened thanks to cold temperatures and fresh snow.
But if a vacation out west seems out of the picture this winter, pack your car and take a road trip to the many local resorts nearby and in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New England.
Skiers and riders have been enjoying the Big SNOW American Dream indoor snow park at the Meadowlands since it reopened in September. (Photo: Big SNOW American Dream)
Around here, the mountains have pushed back opening dates due to recent warm weather but snowmaking could resume this weekend up north. Killington, Mount Snow, and Okemo in Vermont, and Sunday River in Maine, could be first areas to open a few days before Thanksgiving. Check snocountry.com for latest news.
What will be different this year?
If you’re wondering what skiing or riding this winter will be like during the pandemic, resorts have been working hard to gear up with safety protocols including touchless ticket kiosks, pop-up eateries and reorganization of base lodges to allow for social distancing.
Masks in lift lines, limited lift capacity, bathroom attendants, grab-and-go food, ticket reservations and more are the new normal for this winter.
Packing a waist pack such as the Osprey Daylite or a Patagonia day pack to carry COVID-era necessities such as masks, sanitizer and snacks is a good way to be prepared for your ski day.
Lessons must be reserved in advance and class sizes also will be smaller. It could be hard to get instruction for children under 5, although Smugglers Notch in Vermont is allowing lessons as long as parents tag along to do nose-wiping and hand-holding.
Lift riding will also be different. At Gore Mountain, groups who travel to the mountain together can ride the lifts together. Singles will always have the option of boarding a lift alone but generally two singles can be loaded together on opposite ends of lifts that seat four or more.
Changing boots in base lodges also is discouraged, so doing it in your car is a good solution. Get a pair of GripWalk or Seirus Cat Tracks that fasten onto boot soles for walking around safely. Windham Mountain in New York’s Catskills has invested in heated benches to allow for boot changing in its outdoor village.
Kids having fun playing slopeside outside the Jordan Hotel at Sunday River Ski Resort in Maine. (Photo: Sunday River Ski Resort)
Planning ahead is key
You might even want to consider a season pass since passholders get first dibs on ski days. You could choose one of the bigger ones such as Epic or Ikon, or you could pick a specific mountain season pass such as New Jersey’s Mountain Creek with value passes for $329 and its Triple Play three-day deal for $110.
The Epic Pass reservation system is now open and passholders get priority booking. Prices go up $100 on Nov. 22. Ikon passholders are not required to make reservations at its affiliated resorts. There are many passes to ponder. The Epic New England Value pass is $619 accessing 18 areas and the New England Midweek is $469 while Ikon’s Base Pass is $849 (42 areas) and the Session Pass 4-day is $499.
The newer Indy Pass offers two days at its 50-plus resorts ($199) and accesses nearby Shawnee Mountain (Pennsylvania), Catamount (New York) and Mohawk (Connecticut) for day-tripping. And, there are many more in New England including Magic, Jay Peak, Suicide Six and Bolton. The Mountain Collective is $589, with two days at each of its 23 affiliated resorts including Sugarloaf and Sugarbush.
If you choose not to buy a season pass this year, day tickets will still be available, but must be booked online as ticket window sales will not be happening at most resorts. Tickets purchased online serve as your reservation.
In case of shutdowns due to COVID-19
Resorts have pass assurance or credit possibilities toward the following winter. The Indy Pass gives an automatic renewal if you use the pass for fewer than four days – no questions asked.
Despite the restrictions, it’s still going to be fun to finally get out and ski or ride again.
“People get nervous when they hear ‘reservations’, but the capacity numbers will be higher than most people think,” said Jamie Storrs, Mount Snowcommunications director.
It’s also likely that midweek skiing will be easier to get at the last minute, meaning you could buy a ticket online the day you want to go skiing for some spontaneous adventure.
Night skiing is another option for uncrowded turns. Gore Mountain’s North Creek Ski Bowl in New York has skiing under the lights, and has added the new High Peaks quad and Sunway quad lifts to increase capacity.
Cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities also are available at many mountains. Stratton Mountain in Vermont has increased its non-ski outdoor activities with fat biking, snowshoeing tours and two new uphill travel trails.
Dining at the resorts
In addition to dashing into the base lodge for prepared food, creative dining options range from seating behind wind barriers on sun decks to queueing up at food trucks.
Sugarbush in Vermont is renting cabanas that could serve as a mini base lodge for groups who don’t want to interact with people outside their bubble. Sunday River has added outdoor igloos for private dining at its Last Run Room in the Grand Summit and is converting conference space for additional dining, plus warming areas.
Remember: Follow quarantine rules
Resort managers ask visitors to check quarantine rules ahead of planned trips for the latest protocols. Vermont’s quarantine rules are updated regularly at skivermont.com/trip-planning-and-covid-19.
The National Ski Areas Association has published the Ski Well, Be Well guide (nsaa.org/skiwellbewell). Also check out specific-resort websites for details on what your favorite area is doing.
“We’re excited to open for the season and get people here,” said Bone Bayse, Gore Mountain’s general manager. “There has been a lot of planning and preparing for everyone to have fun.”