Skiing, like almost every other activity this year, is returning with a new set of health and safety rules. As winter arrives in the northern hemisphere, resorts are focusing on minimizing crowds, capping numbers and creating safe spaces for guests to enjoy the season.
After almost a year of Covid-induced restrictions, people are keen to get outdoors. And while skiing is a relatively low-risk activity with fresh air and wide open spaces, the pandemic is still raging through the US. Ski resorts are taking extra precautions to keep everyone safe. Indeed Vail, one of the largest ski resorts in the US, sent an open letter to its 34 locations across North America in September highlighting key changes for the 2020/21 season.
Face masks are now mandatory in designated areas such as inside the lodge, in ski school groups, in lift lines, and in gondolas and chairlifts. Guests who arrive without a face mask or reservation will not be permitted. "Just as other tourist destinations have required, we must ensure that face coverings are not optional if you are walking around with a drink or snack in your hand," CEO Rob Katz said. The rules apply across the border in Canada too, including at Whistler-Blackcomb, which is also part of the Vail portfolio.
In addition, physical distance on the slopes are maintained through a new reservation system, and through limits on lift tickets to prioritize pass holders. Class sizes are limited to a maximum of six people and lessons must be booked in advance. Signage is in place to remind people to stay six feet apart and guests must ride chairlifts and gondolas with those in their existing group. Lift lines are likely to move slower to accommodate the new systems.
Ahead of a crucial wave of mountain re-openings this season, resorts are looking to reinvent the winter sports experience for a dramatically transformed time. Owners and staff are working to convince guests that their protocols will keep them safe – and that will only work with full compliance from guests. "It has been our goal to design an approach that can remain in place for all of the 2020/21 season," added Katz. "We do not want to be caught off guard or find ourselves needing to make reactionary changes."
Dining is different too. Ski California, a non-profit that represents 32 resorts across California and Nevada, said that food and beverage offerings will be available this year, but guests will see reduced capacity in indoor spaces, and are encouraged to avail of the "grab and go" options. Which means dining in their cars, or if they can brave the elements, outdoors. "Many resorts will encourage outdoor dining, offer 'grab and go' options, and recommend use of personal vehicles as the 'lodge' this year," said Mike Reitzell, Ski California president.
“All of our resorts have been diligently working since March to ensure their operations can adhere to ever changing public health and safety requirements," added Reitzell." Some procedures will vary by resort, but all resorts are aligned in their desire to have a full ski season. To do this, it’s going to require active adherence to established policies by resort guests."
Shuttle services at ski resorts across the country will be impacted by the pandemic. Some will operate at a reduced service or be suspended entirely. The Utah Transit Authority has warned that their ski shuttles will operate at 50% capacity and guests are likely to encounter long delays. It's worth checking ahead to see what shuttle services are being offered at your ski resort this year. Guests may have to consider renting a car to get them from the lodge to the slopes, adding another expense to their budget.
It's also worth noting that the vast majority of resorts are no longer accepting walk-in tickets, and some may require that guests check in with members of their 'bubble'. Park City in Utah announced that reservations will be required to access its mountains this season, while adding "for the vast majority of days, we anticipate our mountains will be able to accommodate everyone who wants to ski or ride at our resorts."
Homewood Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe will limit season-pass sales and cap daily lift tickets during peak times. And Timberline Lodge and Ski Resort in Oregon is asking that guests only visit with members of their household, complete health questionnaires and wear cloth masks in public places. "Timberline is a responsible part of the community and doing the right thing is at our foundation. Please count on us to do that. We are counting on you to do your part," the company notes on its website.
It's likely to be a similar story in most resorts across the US as new protocols are announced ahead of season kick-off. Lodges are expected to be capacity-restricted too so it's important to book well in advance no matter where you go. Planning ahead is key to a good time on the slopes this year. Pack a mask, purchase your ticket online and make sure you're up-to speed with the resort's policies and operations, which could change ahead of your arrival, and the state's public health guidelines too.
This article was first published on September 2, 2020 and updated on November 11, 2020.
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