What’s it like to ski with the COVID restrictions in place?

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 12/08/20 •  9 min read

Wondering what it’s like to ski at your favorite mountain during the pandemic? Sure, we’ve all heard what we’re supposed to do: Wear face coverings, maintain physical distance, ride the lifts solo or only with the people we’ve come with. In fact, most, if not all, ski areas have their COVID policies clearly outlined on their websites. For example, take a look at this from the Mount Hood Meadows home page on December 3. It’s pretty clear they’re not messing around.

From the Mount Hood Meadows homepage (December 3)

And the president of Schweitzer Mountain, Tom Chasse, recently sent an email to pass holders and newsletter subscribers warning that if people don’t shape up and start wearing masks, he’s willing to shut the entire mountain down until they’re able to open additional lifts and terrain.

Nonetheless, just because something’s policy doesn’t mean it’s being enforced at every mountain resort. So how’s it really working out? Are people actually complying? Are they behaving in a way that will make us feel safe?

Well, wonder no more. Members of the Ski Diva community have been out and about, and they’re willing to share their experiences with us. So keep reading to see what some of them found at a few of the resorts across the country. (For more complete first day trip reports, go here.)

Heavenly (CA)

I went to opening day at Heavenly. Only the California side was open, with a couple of runs (Ridge Run, Maggie’s and Patsy, if you’re familiar) available. Lines were easy (as in no more than a 2-3 minute wait), and I can’t speak to restrooms/food, because I avoided them all. Folks were okay at masks; most were good about having them on the lift lines, but I’m still assessing my own personal comfort level with lack of face covering while on the move.

For those curious about the reservation system: I checked and it does seem possible to do same-day reservations on the app (which I know locals were worried about). I wouldn’t make a trip and try one’s luck, but I live in South Lake Tahoe this season, so it’s a good note for me.

Lift lines at Heavenly.

Northstar (CA)

The lines looked longer than they were due to spacing; I don’t think I spent more than 5 minutes waiting at any point. Lifties were directing singles to sit together at opposite ends of four-person chairs, which felt fine to me given that everyone was masked. I didn’t see any pressure from other skiers to merge non-household groups.

I think I only saw one person the whole day who wasn’t wearing a mask, and she was just in the parking lot. I did overhear one staff member direct a skier to put their mask on and backed it up with “we want a full season, not like last year, and masks are how we’re going to make that happen,” and I heard numerous instances of staff members thanking skiers for wearing masks.

Lunch was managed really well. I think I spent five minutes total inside getting food before heading back out. Space on the patio mid mountain was definitely at a premium, though, but I didn’t see anyone forced to eat on the snow. It honestly makes me wonder if Vail calibrated reservation capacity based on dining estimates.

Mammoth (CA)

They are truly enforcing wearing masks in lift lines. They remind you that it needs to cover your nose. I had been pulling it down when skiing and up when I approached the lift line, then down again on the chairlift…. They had an open lift line and the next line was roped off and closed, so instead of 6-8 lines they only had 3-4. The lines were well regulated with no one cutting ahead or attempting to ride with a stranger. I did have one person ask if I was “single,” but I was just a bit behind my husband. I guess two singles are allowed at opposite ends of a high speed quad. We spent about half an hour in the lodge. It was well spaced and felt safe.

Inside the lodge at Mammoth

Snowmass (CO)

I saw masks on all Skico employees, though there were quite a number of resort guests walking around base village without masks. Gondola access was good; we got there at about 9:30 AM (the gondola starts at 9). We had the whole gondola to ourselves, since the employees were keeping parties separate. The windows were open on every gondola as well.

The beginner area was full of accents from different countries (we heard Italian, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese), some wearing masks while skiing, others not. I hope that they put them on in the lift line.

We felt comfortable inside eating at a table. Outside seemed to have less social distancing with the tables but inside there was a max capacity and tables were spread apart appropriately.

We left the Elk Camp area and decided to take one run down off Village Express mid-station. The lines were spread apart side to side, but people were still pretty close front to back, everyone wearing masks. I did hear one girl who was skiing solo ask if she could go on the lift by herself and they said she could, so that was nice to hear, especially since the chairlift is a 6-pack.

We left at 2:30 PM and I could tell that there was more mask leniency in the base village area by that time. Plenty of tourists didn’t even both, from what I could tell.

I’m not quite sure what the rest of the season will hold, but I think Skico may have a harder time as the numbers start going up. Foreign tourists are their bread and butter for money making, and it may be hard to get good mask compliance without taking the risk of upsetting them. I anticipate if the numbers keep going up they may have to institute a reservation system, but, I definitely give them kudos for everything they have instituted so far!

Wachusett (MA)

Most people were riding solo and no one tried to get on with anyone outside their party. I wore a face covering when arriving at and getting on/off the lift and would pull it down to ski and while riding the lift. Most others were doing the same….. With so few people you were never near anyone so I felt comfortable with how things went outside, and it followed Wachusett’s specific guidance on their website for face coverings……  There were many patio heaters and spaced tables outside at the base area, along with new heated benches which are cool! They are really long so you can definitely sit on opposite ends with others…..  I didn’t go inside at all and didn’t need the bathroom. There were porta potties outside and food was being served outside, too.

Outdoor tables at Wachusett

Sunday River (ME)

At Sunday River yesterday the lifties were calling people out [who didn’t have their masks up], including those with masks below their noses coming into line. Is it perfect? No. We are only on like day 7 of opening though, and the poor liftie told me he’s already been called every name in the book, which shocked me (even though it really shouldn’t). I thanked him for being vigilant. When I looked around, though, it’s pretty darn good and I think consistently reminding people early season will help train people as we go on. We can’t assume someone is being a jerk because they pull up with their mask down to the line, it’s just not second nature while skiing yet.

Brighton (UT)

I went to Brighton on Thursday. Crowds weren’t bad, but it was passholders only. Everyone was great about staying distanced, wearing masks, and staff were on top of reminding folks who forgot…..I ended up wearing a KF94 under my goggles, with a thin balaclava over top. No problems with goggles steaming up and everything stayed in place.

Killington (VT)

We had an attempted first day at Killington today, but the parking shuttle arrangement did not strike me as COVID-safe or at least within my personal comfort level.

We pulled in around 9:45 and the K-1 lot was full, so we had to park in a lot that requires a closed-air bus shuttle. The shuttle itself looked pretty full to my COVID-agoraphobic eyes… my guess was that it was probably half capacity, but even half capacity in a closed bus is too much for me. There was another Vermont truck in front of us that did the same thing — he turned right around when he saw the parking situation.

The lot had many non-Vermont plates and while it’s very possible that many of these were people who had quarantined prior to coming, the woman working at Darkside Snowboards said that she had a number of out-of-state customers say “See you next weekend!”

So, for now, no Killington for me unless I get there early enough to avoid the parking shuttle. I understand that this may strike some as xenophobic but the reality is that the ambient level of COVID is significantly higher outside of Vermont (even with our recent surge) and I didn’t feel the need to expose myself that situation.

Crystal (WA)

Very nice day one at Crystal today. They really are trying, and have staff everywhere (outside the restrooms counting capacity, arranging people on lifts, seeing who needs help finding the right window for ticket or pass pickup at the base). Lovely weather and very good conditions for early December. Upper mountain lifts were on wind hold in the morning and there were some very long lift lines until the wind died down.

It was beautiful, as you can see, so no problem eating my lunch outside. When a gust of wind blew some snow over me and more specifically, my sandwich, I did realize it’s going to be far less comfortable on snowy days with no place to get inside. Except the tent they are still erecting, but it wasn’t as big as I expected.

Outdoor seating at Crystal





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