After months of speculation, the word it finally out: Last week Vail released its operating plan for the coming season, and it’s a lot to take in. Rather than repeat the whole thing, you can go here to see for yourself. It’s a pretty lengthy document, but in a nutshell, there are a few things that are being put be in place:
• Masks will be mandatory everywhere at all Vail Resorts. This includes chairlifts and gondolas, inside all buildings, and during all lessons. No one will be permitted on the mountain without a face covering.
• Reservations will be required and tickets will only be sold online or through Vail Resorts call centers. Walk up sales at ticket windows are a thing of the past.
• Physical distancing measures will be in place. This covers lifts, restaurants, and public areas. Essentially, everywhere throughout a Vail Resort.
Vail has 34 resorts in North America, so what it does affects a heck of a lot of skiers. Sure, not everyone is going to like dealing with all this. After all, it’s not exactly convenient to wear a mask or call ahead for reservations. Me, I’m okay. We have to do whatever we can to slow the spread of the virus. And given everything that’s happened, we’re lucky we even get to ski this year.
According to Bob Katz, Vail CEO, the policies are needed to keep guests safe. “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,” he said in a letter to pass holders. “This often means choosing to go above and beyond what is required in order to do our very best to provide you peace of mind.”
So what does all of this mean for you?
The good news is we get to ski. I said this before, and it’s true. It never was a given that the resorts would open, and to be frank, it still isn’t. If the pandemic worsens, states could go ahead and mandate resort closures, as they did back in March. As of right now, however, the ski season is still on. So continue socially distancing, wearing your mask, and doing whatever you can to limit the spread of the virus. It could make the difference between having a skis season and not having a ski season at all.
Having a pass has its perks. Epic pass holders have a definite leg up on non-pass holders. For example, only pass holders will be able to ski early season, before December 8. After that, pass holders will still have priority. Here’s a summary of what’s available to you if you have a pass, from the Epic website.
Spontaneous ski trips may be a thing of the past. Skiing is going a lot more deliberate this year. You’re going to have to decide in advance where and when you’re going to ski and make reservations beforehand. For those of us who are more last minute — who like to roll out of bed and decide if it’s a grab-your-skis-and-go day — forget it. Yes, you can still buy a same day lift ticket (online only, of course), but these are subject to availability. I know, it’s less than ideal. But it’s not going to be that way forever. We can handle it for a year.
You’ll probably be outside a lot more. Buildings will be monitored closely for capacity. Don’t worry — you’ll still be able to get in to go to the bathroom. But you might have to put your boots on outside (booting up in the lodge is a lot more common in the east), if too many people are inside. Expect to do a lot of your socializing outdoors, too.
Apres might be passe. Full-service bars will not be in operation, but packaged beer and wine will be sold on site. So if you enjoy ending your day relaxing at an on-mountain bar, that’s not going to happen. Eating at on-mountain restaurants will be more limited, too. Full-service, sit-down restaurants will operate with reduced seating, according to existing state guidelines.
Things could get a bit crowded. If you live in the east and don’t want to fly, your ski trip choices just got a lot more limited. It seems likely that most people may be taking ski vacations within driving distance — which could amount to more people at your favorite hill. Combine that with the flexibility that comes with remote working and learning, and you could see more people on the hill during the week.
Policies may vary. Even though Vail owns a lot of resorts, they haven’t completely taken over the ski universe. So if you head to a non-Vail resort, be sure to check their website before you go to learn about the policies they have in place. There could be differences you need to know.
Expect change, both for the good and the bad. As I mentioned before, nothing is set in stone. If the states deem it necessary, the resorts could be forced to close down, like they did in March. Conversely if things go well —and I’m thinking vaccine here — things could open up a lot more. Restrictions could ease up (or stop being necessary). Let’s keep our fingers crossed.