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From Lift Reservations to Face Masks, Skiing Will Be Different This Year

Ski and Snow
by Tim Wenger Oct 12, 2020

The pandemic has upended nearly all aspects of daily life. Skiing and snowboarding will be no different. This coming winter, face masks won’t just protect skiers’ cheeks and noses from the chilling cold, they will be mandatory to board the lift at nearly all ski areas across the United States. At least most skiers and snowboarders already own one.

Beyond face masks, social distancing and even reservation systems have been put in place — though specific requirements vary by resort operator and local guidelines. Working in skiers’ favor is the fact that the sport lends itself to social distancing by design: push your abilities to the high alpine bowls and there’s little chance of rubbing shoulders with a stranger. Let’s look at what to expect from the ski industry’s major resort operators for the 2020-21 season.

Vail Resorts will require reservations for all skiers and riders.

Vail, Colorado

Photo: Jonas Tufvesson/Shutterstock

The country’s largest ski resort operator, Vail Resorts, announced in August that it would implement a reservation system for pass holders and daily ticket sales this season. Pass holders, including those with the company’s popular Epic Pass, will have top priority, and daily ticket sales will be adjusted to accommodate pass holder reservations. Should a day’s maximum capacity be reached, daily ticket sales will cease. So if you plan to ski during a busy period such as the winter holiday season or the weekend preceding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, make your reservations as soon as possible.

The reservation system will open on November 6. Epic Pass and other pass holders will receive seven “Priority Reservation Days” for the core season running December 8 until April 4, with priority booking during those times. Beyond those seven days, pass holders can reserve any day they wish to ski — as long as the daily capacity has not been reached — by reserving week-of or even morning-of. If you have an Epic Pass, you can secure your reservations via the Epic Pass website.

Walk-up tickets will not be available without a reservation. Despite the reservation requirement, the company doesn’t expect skiers and riders to have any issues accessing the mountain on the majority of days throughout the season.

“The good news is that we operate many of the largest mountain resorts in North America, and for the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to,” Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said in a statement on the company’s website.

In addition to requiring reservations, only related parties will be seated together on lifts and in gondolas — so you won’t be finding new random snowboarding buddies or sharing your know-how about secret powder stashes on the lifts this winter. Social distancing and face masks practices will be in place not just on-mountain, but in common areas like restaurants and rental shops.

“As we have all summer, we will be requiring guests to wear face coverings in every part of our operations, which includes loading and riding in chairlifts and gondolas; when inside all buildings; and during all ski and snowboard lessons,” Katz said in the statement.

Alterra Mountain Company will curtail daily ticket sales.

Big White Resort

Photo: W. Richard/Shutterstock

Denver-based Alterra Mountain Company, which owns or runs pass holder operations at 38 ski resorts and destinations accessible via its Ikon Pass, does not plan to require reservations at the majority of its resorts for the 2020-21 season. Instead, Alterra plans to curb daily ticket sales in order to ensure pass holders are able to access the mountain first. Daily ticket sales will be curtailed to accommodate pass holders and adjusted as necessary.

“While these unprecedented times and rapidly evolving circumstances may cause plans to change without notice, currently most Ikon Pass destinations feel confident they can elevate the guest experience and eliminate the need for lift access reservations by addressing social distancing concerns through other operational changes,” the company said in a statement.

Alterra will require face coverings and social distancing, including seating only grouped parties together on lifts and gondolas. Walk-up tickets and other single-use day ticket options will not be available.

“We are prioritizing access for season pass holders and will tightly regulate the number of daily lift tickets that will be available by advance purchase only,” said Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory in a statement on the company’s website. To this end, walk-up window sales will be eliminated, and the sale of some undated lift ticket products will be discontinued until further notice.

What to expect at smaller ski areas

Skiers in Lake Tahoe

Photo: Rob Crandall/Shutterstock

Most independent ski areas not under the purview of the big resort operators are issuing their own guidelines in relation to local health regulations. Homewood Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe, for example, will require online reservations, face coverings, and social distancing, and otherwise refers visitors to the North Lake Tahoe “Know Before You Go” page for additional requirements. Across the country in Maine, Sunday River will require skiers to wear face coverings in areas where distancing is not possible and will limit capacities at indoor spaces.

Check with your local ski hill before arrival to make sure you’re prepared for a safe and fun day on the mountain.

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