December 2, 2020

Unfortunately, skiing (like everything else in life right now) will be impacted by COVID-19. Good news – we know of no major lift-served ski area in North America that will not open this year. Bad news – every aspect of your skiing experience is most likely to be impacted this winter by the virus, and it may be difficult to sneak in that impromptu day on the hill. See our Industry Update on Vail Resorts reservation system – perhaps the most restrictive set of ski COVID-19 rules.

Most areas have announced their restrictions for the year and, unsurprisingly, there are major commonalities:

  • Reservations: perhaps the most shocking potential change is you may need reservations to ski your favorite resort. Vail has announced a reservation system for all of its North American resorts (37) and Alterra Mountain Company (via its IKON Pass) has a reservation system for 8 of its resorts (including Squaw, Aspen, Big Sky and Jackson). These systems give priority to pass holders – particular season passholders. (See our other Industry Update for more specifics on these reservation systems. ) Also, many resorts have said they are going to keep an eye on capacity and possibly restrict skier numbers. It is unclear to us realistically how this will work. As an example, Alta has stated they will restrict numbers based on certain factors such as the amount of terrain open and parking capacity, but has not provided more guidance
  • Lifts: COVID “pods” or family members can load together. However, (surely to avoid liability) lifties are not responsible for policing everyone, so you have to wonder exactly how strictly this can be enforced. Unrelated (defined loosely by pod or family) skiers cannot sit next to each other on a chairlift which will mean two on quads and one person on doubles. And yes, Mad River Glen with its single is now considered ahead of its time! Enclosed lifts are more problematic with lift capacity way down – Snowbird has announced only 25 people per tram vs capacity of 125.
  • Lift Lines: There is a new phrase in the industry: tip to tail lines. What this means is that there may not be side by side lines of people who don’t know each other. In other words – no singles lines. And you thought lift lines were a shitshow before!
  • Lodges: Limited seating; tables far apart; grab and go vs. to order; masks required except when eating/drinking and bathrooms limited or closed – replaced with porta-potties. Some areas have announced there will be no ski equipment rentals at least to begin the season.
  • Face coverings: Required at all times except when actually skiing. Fortunately, the ski areas seem to have no interest in policing what type of face covering is required, so that ratty old neck gaiter you are too cheap to replace will do.
  • Love your vehicle: Don’t laugh, but some resorts are encouraging skiers to treat your vehicle as the new base lodge. From Alta’s site: “We encourage you to consider your vehicle as your locker room, shelter and dining establishment.” But please folks, don’t go to the bathroom in it unless you did buy that tricked out sprinter van – your ride home could be messy.

For the avid energetic skier who stays outside most of the day, these limitations may have little impact, but the casual skiers may find this difficult enough to decide to stay away. All of it puts pressure on planning ahead – everything from bring your own sunscreen because the ski shop may be closed or there may be long lines to get in to calling the day before to find out whether your favorite area is limiting skiers.

For examples of proposed COVID restrictions see Alta’a Covid-19 Response and Magic Mountain Alpine Update

One footnote – as of this writing the Canadian border is still closed, and that probably will not change in the foreseeable future. US skiers are probably wise to book at US areas. Some Canadian non lift serviced operations have announced they will be closed for the year – and heli operations are hedging bets; see CMH Letter from President

conSKIerge co-founder

Kevin Dennis is a life long ski bum with a 34 year legal career on the side. Now retired, he skis 80+ days a year. While he lives in Alta UT in the winters, he has traveled extensively through skiing and has skied almost every major resort in North America (and many you have never heard of). He continues to hit the road often throughout the western United States and Canada and trips over the last several years have included ventures in British Columbia, Montana and Colorado. Whether you want to know about the behemoths like Aspen or Squaw or are interested in the road less travelled (Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana or Whitewater in BC anyone?), Kevin has been there, has an opinion and you will most likely have to tell him to shut up after a half hour!