By Janeen Christoff
Good news for outdoor enthusiasts, skiing is back for the 2020-2021 season.
Many resorts closed early last spring as the coronavirus pandemic began its first wave of infections, but as the medical community has learned more about the virus and how it spreads, outdoor activities have been seen as safe and that means skiing, snowboarding and other snow sports are opening up this winter.
In a recent survey from SkiDriven.com, ski trips are the second-most popular type of trip for winter travel, following road trips at No. 1. The top five destinations for winter trips also include popular mountain destinations, including Vermont, Oregon, Maine, Wyoming and Colorado.
While mountain resorts are opening up, this winter sports season may look and feel a little different than in the past.
Most mountains will require visitors to wear face coverings. There will be a lot more outdoor dining spaces, and there will be regular cleaning and disinfecting at resorts.
One of the biggest changes to the resort experience is the introduction of reservation systems for everything from dining to lift lines to purchasing passes themselves. Resorts will be closely monitoring crowds to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Vail Resorts, which operates several mountain resorts around the country and the world, is focused on safety.
In a letter to guests, CEO Rob Katz announced its reopening plans.
“It goes without saying that operations at our 34 North American resorts will abide by all local regulations, but for us, that’s just where safety begins,” Katz wrote. “Since the beginning of this crisis, we have made a commitment to all of our stakeholders that we will operate in a way that puts safety first and uses the insights we have gleaned from operating so many resorts around the world.”
All Vail Resorts properties will require face coverings. Physical distancing will be promoted, and there will be a new reservations system.
The reservation system is the biggest change. Pass holders will need to make a reservation before arriving at the mountain and the early season will be reserved for pass holders only. Lift tickets will need to be purchased online or through a call center; there will be no ticket window purchases.
“Again, we recognize that most days of the season it will not be necessary to manage the number of people on our mountains, and that our pass holders may view the reservation system as a hassle,” Katz said in the letter. “However, with this program, we are planning for as many contingencies as possible to strive to give you peace of mind knowing you will have the space you need to physically distance and enjoy your time on the slopes.”
Idaho’s Sun Valley Resort has always been somewhat off the beaten path meaning “social distancing” is built into the experience.
However, this winter, Sun Valley will open with even more space with the addition of more than 380 acres of new high-intermediate to expert terrain on Bald Mountain and a brand new high-speed quad chairlift to take guests there.
Dining on the mountain will be by reservation, and Sun Valley Resort is encouraging people to come to the mountain ready to ski and suggesting visitors embrace the “ski culture” of years past and use cars as personal base camps for tailgating and apres spots.
In a letter to guests, general manager Tim Silva said that the resort will open on Thanksgiving Day, as is tradition.
“The entire resort leadership team has been working to create a winter operating plan that ensures a safe and enjoyable experience, and I thought it would be appropriate to share some of our key thoughts and assumptions regarding the upcoming winter season,” said Silva.
The resort also does not plan to implement a reservation system or visitation limits for Sun Valley Season Pass holders or Epic Pass holders on Bald Mountain or Dollar Mountain this winter season.
Colorado’s Steamboat Resort is keeping guests safe with its “5 Commitments to Containment” strategy for visitors. The commitments include maintaining 6 feet of distance, hand washing, wearing face coverings, staying home when sick and testing if someone has symptoms.
Similar to other ski resorts, Steamboat will limit standalone tickets to control crowds and packages and season passes are the best way to access the mountain. The resort is part of the Ikon Pass program, which is one of the best ways visitors can ensure access to the slopes.
Travelers should definitely plan ahead if they are going to travel to the mountains for skiing and snowboarding this year, but the good news is that it remains a fun and safe outdoor option during this pandemic.