Last season was one for the books. I don’t think I can overstate the impact that COVID had on the ski world. Reservations, travel restrictions, limited lift capacity, closed lodges, masks — these were just a few of the things we had to contend with.
Nonetheless, we still have to consider ourselves lucky. The resorts were open, lifts were spinning, and Mother Nature delivered the goods. And even though it seems like the pandemic has been going on forever, things are beginning to look up. No, it doesn’t look like we’ll be back to pre-pandemic normalcy this season. And yes, it can be confusing: the situation — and the rules — seem to change all the time. So if you’re planning to ski, here are some of the things you should keep in mind, based on where things stand right now:
• You won’t need to quarantine to travel. As someone who lives and skis in Vermont, this is huge. Last year anyone from out of state who wanted to ski here had to follow strict quarantining procedures. Thankfully, these have ended, as they have everywhere else, too. Of course, there are exceptions: If you actually have COVID, you shouldn’t be traveling at all. And if you’ve been exposed, well, it’s a good idea to quarantine til you’re sure you’re not contagious. But for the most part, we’re all free to go wherever we want, whenever we want. And that’s a good thing.
• You won’t need reservations to ski. These were adopted by many areas as a means to managing crowds. This year, however, the reservation system has been dropped by Vail, as well as by (I think) everyone else who had it in place. But some, like Loon Mountain (NH), plan to control crowds by limiting day tickets and requiring they be purchased in advance on line. Be sure to check with your resort before you go so you’re not caught short.
• You’ll still need a mask. You probably won’t need one when you ski or on the lift line, but many resorts are requiring them anytime you go indoors. For example, if you need to go to the restroom or into the rental shop, you better have a mask. Some places are also requiring them anywhere crowds are present, even outdoors. And this can be the case even if you’ve been vaccinated.
• You may still need reservations to dine indoors. Vail Resorts will require reservations at many of its on-mountain restaurants, though capacity will be increased from last season. They’ll also require proof of vaccination for guests ages 12 and older to dine at its on mountain, cafeteria restaurants. So if you want to eat in, better check on what the rules are first.
• You may still need to boot up outdoors. As someone who hates booting up in the parking lot, this really hurts. I know a lot of people do this on a regular basis. But, hey, it’s not for me (I know, I’m a wuss). I enjoy socializing with my friends in the lodge while I’m getting ready. And it’s cold in the lot (whine, whine). Again, all this depends on the resort (and, of course, your own personal preference). Booting up indoors may be off limits in lodges that include restaurants, since they may only only be open to those with dining reservations. Some may allow it if you can produce your vaccination card. Again, if this is important to you, check before you go.
• Ride the lift with whomever you like. Last year, the policy at many resorts was that it was fine to ride the lift with whomever you arrived with. In some cases, reduced lift capacity resulted in h-u-g-e lift lines. (I wrote about this here). Now all that’s over. Ride the lift with whomever you want. Or don’t. It’s up to you.
• Yes, you can take lessons. Last year, many resorts either suspended group lessons or put severe limitations on the number of people in each class. The latter may still be in effect. Vail, for example, will limit all class sizes to six people. And all guests will have to undergo an online self-health screening (and sign a COVID-19 waiver) before taking part. Here’s some good news: After a year during which many were suspended, women’s clinics are back! For a list of some of the ones being scheduled, go here.
• Be patient with the staff. If it seems like every business in the world is looking for help this year, that’s because they are. Here in Vermont, a housing crunch and worker shortage — problems that have been simmering for years — have gotten even worse since the pandemic. This is particularly problematic for ski resorts, which rely heavily on seasonal employees. Killington, for example, expects a worker shortage of 20 to 30%, so things like renting equipment or getting food may take a lot longer than they did in the past. Keep this in mind, keep your cool, and be patient.
• Parking restrictions. If you’ve always parked for free, you’re in for a change. Alta, for example, is going to start requiring reservations weekends and holidays from 8 AM to 1 PM. At Mount Snow (VT), 60% of its parking capacity will be reserved for paid parking on weekends and holidays. (my thoughts on that here). And after a season of horrific traffic and parking problems, Crystal (WA) is going to begin charging for parking Friday through Sunday, unless you have one of their pass products. Here’s something cool, though: The money is going toward a free shuttle system from Enumclaw, the nearest town (45 minutes away when roads are bare). They’ve also launched their own shuttle from the Seattle area to the mountain, to help reduce congestion.
• Life in the fast lane. Fast access lines are nothing new. Some resorts have tried them in the past, and they often get a big thumbs down from guests. This year, however, Powdr is launching dedicated fast access lanes at the most popular lifts at Copper, Killington, Mt Bachelor, and Snowbird. To access the lanes, guests will need to buy a daily Fast Tracks pass, which will start at $49 a day. These will have dynamic pricing based on peak periods, holidays, and days of the week. Do I think this is a bad idea? Yes. I think all of us should be on equal footing for the lifts. We pay enough for our passes, so let’s not make things worse. But that’s just me.
Remember, any of this could change at any time. So before you head out to ski, make sure you check your resort’s website so you’ll know what to expect.
That said, I sincerely hope this is the last year I’ll need to put together a post like this.
Here’s hoping for better days ahead.