Ski season is here again after coming to a premature end last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Resorts are beginning to open back up, with most back in operation by year’s end. They’ve also implemented changes to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
The first thing skiers may notice: You won’t be able to just jump in the car and head to the slopes anymore. You’ll probably need to make a reservation and purchase lift tickets in advance either online or by phone
“You have to think about it like you’re flying somewhere,” said Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California.
While varying state and local COVID-19 protocols could change what you can and can’t do indoors, the outdoor part of the experience may actually not feel that different.
“Come for the outdoor experience,” Reitzell said. “For the most part, things are similar.”
Other changes should look familiar to anyone who’s visited a theme park or hotel or taken a trip on an airline in the past few months.
Face masks will be required where social distancing isn’t possible.
For example, in Colorado’s ski country, visitors will be required to wear face coverings in all indoor and outdoor public spaces, including in lift and gondola lines and on gondolas. Masks will not be required when skiing, snowboarding or dining.
You’ll have to make reservations and buy lift tickets in advance. Even season passholders, such as those holding a Gold Pass in California, are advised to check with the ski area they plan to visit to see what requirements apply to them.
Lifts and gondolas will be socially distanced, and each ski area will post its specific queuing, loading and riding guidelines so visitors can know what to expect before they go.
In some cases, such as ski areas in Vermont, skiers will be asked to provide contact information to enable contact tracing should there be an outbreak.
Specific requirements will vary from state to state and even county to county, as ski areas coordinate with local health departments to set guidelines. Guidelines could change depending on the rate of coronavirus cases in individual counties.
For example, California’s guidelines allow for indoor dining at 50% capacity in counties that have reached the lowest risk, or yellow tier for COVID-19. However, Reitzell noted that resorts located in high-risk counties won’t be able to offer indoor dining at all.
“Everyone needs to look carefully at what each resort is doing,” Reitzell said.
Last season’s unceremonious end came in mid-March, cutting the season short by six weeks. Making matters worse, it happened right around spring break, robbing resorts of their second-busiest ski period after the Christmas holiday.
Adrienne Isaac, director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Areas Association, a resort trade group, said the industry started planning for the new season back in the spring and developed a set of best practices for keeping skiers safe.
The group’s member associations have endorsed the shared guidelines, but each ski area will also follow local rules.
“We knew it was going to be different,” Isaac said.
‘Do the research’ and ‘wear your mask’
There are 470 ski areas across 37 states, according to the American Ski Areas Association. They generate $55 billion a year and employ more than 500,000. Skiing is especially big business for rural economies.
Since the specific protocols will vary from place to place, Isaac urged skiers to check the rules at any resort they plan on visiting.
“This is the year to know before you go,” she said. “Do the research.”
The trade group is following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, starting with face masks. Everyone – employees included – will be required to wear them.
That rule applies both indoors and outdoors, where social distancing isn’t possible, except when eating or drinking.
“We want you to wear your mask,” Isaac said.
Lines for ski lifts can take advantage of the built-in spacing provided by the length of skis and snowboards. Groups will be separated so that no one rides with anyone they don’t know.
“If you arrive together, you ride together,” Isaac said.
On gondolas and trams, capacity will be reduced, and windows will remain open to improve airflow.
Like other attractions, ski areas have adopted more stringent cleaning and disinfection requirements for high-touch areas. Those include restrooms, restaurants and other dining facilities. The same goes for ski shops, which clean and disinfect all rental equipment before giving it to the next customer.
When you pay for that ski rental or make other purchases, you’re likely to encounter contactless payment systems and those now-familiar plexiglass barriers.
Ski areas will perform daily employee wellness checks, which could include a temperature check. Any employee who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 or has come into contact with someone who does will be sent home or asked to stay home.
Food vendors will offer more grab-and-go and takeout options. And in the case of California resorts that aren’t yet allowed to offer indoor dining, Reitzell said food trucks and delivery from local restaurants could be an alternative.
Ski areas will also abide by their state’s rules for contact tracing. Visitors may be asked to provide their name, phone number, mailing address and email address. This information may be retained up to 30 days for contact-tracing purposes.
Day-use lodges, multi-purpose buildings used for warming and a variety of services, may be required to operate at reduced capacity and maintain a 6-foot distance between parties. Again, specific requirements can vary from state to state.
And if you’re in California, you can forget about having a post-ski beer with buddies. The ban on indoor dining also means no lounging around the fireplace, Reitzell said.
Be flexible and go at off-peak times
Got plenty of vacation days? Consider scheduling your ski trip during the week, since weekends bring more crowds and more traffic.
“If you go skiing on a Wednesday in California,” Reitzell said, “chances are you’re going to have plenty of room.”
Ski resorts have had to be flexible, as well.
Isaac said the industry has applied what it learned during the summer off-season. It’s also taken cues from resorts in the Southern Hemisphere, where the winter ski season is now coming to a close. She said that should help ski operators and communities enjoy a full ski season this time around.
“We’re really good at pivoting when we need to,” Isaac said. “We’re hoping to find that happy medium this season.“
A skier’s checklist
Face masks: You’ll be required to wear one inside and outside where it’s not possible to maintain social distance. The National Ski Areas Association specifies face coverings that align with CDC recommendations.
Reservations and lift tickets: You may be required to purchase these in advance, online or by phone. Season passholders should generally be fine but should still check to see whether they need a reservation.
Social distancing: Lines for ski lifts will require 6 feet between parties. Groups will not be seated on lift chairs with other groups. Capacity on gondolas and trams will be reduced.
Contract tracing: You may be required to provide contact information to the ski area.
Be sure to check with the ski area you are visiting to know when they will open for the season and what you’ll be required to when you go. Here’s the guidance by state:
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ski resort protocols amid COVID-19: What to know before skiing