What to Expect This Winter with Covid Ski Area Operations
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
On a pre-season Zoom event sponsored by the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum, Get On Snow's Parker Riehle led a panel discussion where Sugarbush Resort's John Hammond, Smugglers' Notch Resort's Bill Stritzler and Bromley Mountain Resort's Bill Cairns shared their experiences and best practices for managing their summer business amid COVID restrictions and how they plan to incorporate those management plans when the snow flies. At nearly an hour and half, this discussion has plenty of great information thanks to the candor and commitment of these industry leaders, so it's definitely worth a listen. Here are the key takeaways for what to expect when you're expecting to Get On Snow this winter:
Plan Ahead: We know that this season will be like no other, but the good news is that it will definitely happen and the Old Farmer's Almanac is calling for a snowy winter, so bring it on. But before you bring it, ring it -- that is, you'll want to check with the resort of your choice before showing up. If you have a season pass, you won't need an advance reservation at the three resorts on this panel, but on busy days you will need to book in advance at several other resorts, including those in the Epic Pass party tent. No season pass? Day tickets will be available but they will be in limited supply as a way to manage capacity, as explained by Sugarbush's Hammond. In addition, there will likely be very few resorts allowing walk-up day ticket purchases so you'll definitely need to plan on buying those online in advance -- which you'd want to do anyway since they are cheaper that way.
Be Aware of Travel Restrictions: With quarantine travel restrictions changing frequently among the ski states, you'll also want to be up to speed on what you'll need to do to hit your favorite destinations. While the major western ski states are generally free of any travel restrictions, California has imposed a requirement that travelers self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival which puts a serious cramp on that ski vacation you were planning to the Sierras or Mammoth. In the Northeast, however, just about every state has some sort of mandatory quarantine requirement either before or after you arrive, so you'll want to click on this national run-down of state travel policies for the latest status of your desired ski state before loading up the YetiMobile: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/us-state-travel-restrictions-covid-19/index.html
Masks & Distancing: There's really no mystery here; just as you need to mask up and keep your 6 feet of distance at the supermarket, it will be no different at the ski areas when standing in lines or making your way to the loo or take-out counter. The good news is that most of our ski culture puts us in natural compliance where we are wearing face coverings anyway and the boards on our feet keep us 6 feet from those fore and aft. That in addition to being in the great outdoors with gazillions of snowy acres on which to spread out makes skiing and riding the best bet for getting your ya-ya's out while staying safe.
The Chevrolet Chalet: Parking lot tailgating is usually relegated to the final days of sunny spring skiing, but for this strange season and the all too familiar restrictions on indoor space capacity, resorts will be encouraging this from day one of your winter's journey on snow. Plan to boot up, warm up, eat up and après party down in the warmth and comfort of your own Chevy Chalet, complete with your outdoor grills and heaters. Just keep your distance from your friendly intrepid neighbors and you'll probably want to leave your shot-ski at home - unless it's a two-shotter on one of those 210's you skiied on in high school. One cool innovation: Sugarbush will be following the pool cabana model by deploying a half-dozen mini-cabins that can be rented for the day to keep your family warm, crowd-free and close to the slopes. Yes please!
What About the Kids? If your little ankle biters are at the age where they can rip it up with you all day long, then you're in great shape to rent one of those cabanas and fill up your own family bubbled chair or gondy. But if they need to be put in ski school or day care, you will definitely need to check in advance. These two amenities have proven to be the most difficult to plan and manage, as stated by all three of the panelists here. Plan on some significant restrictions on ski school that will likely require you to stick close by rather than the age-old dump and run that ski parents look forward to each weekend. As for day care, it's likely that your ski area simply won't be able to offer that at all or it will likewise by severely restricted. If your kiddos are training to be the next Mikaela Shiffrin or Ted Ligety in the race programs, the panelists agreed that those should be able to operate without a hitch given the natural social distancing involved.
Be Flexible & Patient: If you can swing it, the best bet is to ski and ride mid-week and non-holiday to avoid the crowds -- a good rule of thumb no matter what the season. But not everyone has the luxury of blowing off the work day, so the next best bet is to avoid the 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM crush on holidays and weekends. The nearly universal lift loading protocol will be limiting full chairlifts and gondolas to friends and family, with strangers in line otherwise being loaded no more than two to a quad chair or gondola, and only if both parties are comfortable. With that kind of lift loading, prepare to be patient with the longer wait times and just enjoy that fact that you're outside and getting ready to be immersed in the pandemic elixir of ripping the great wide open terrain or the peaceful silence of the trees. And for those barn-burner busy days on the hill, this will be the winter to take up Nordic skiing or snowshoeing that you'll find available at most alpine resorts and at the scores of cross-country ski areas and golf courses across the country.