Yes, Slopes Will Be Open This Season—but Skiing During COVID Will Look a Bit Different

The 2020-2021 U.S. ski season will include mandatory face coverings, physical distancing on chairlifts, and no more walk-up windows.

Yes, Slopes Will Be Open This Season—but Skiing During COVID Will Look a Bit Different

Only those in the same party will be sitting next to each other on chairlifts at Vail Resorts’ mountains this season.

Photo by DisobeyArt/Shutterstock

Vail Resorts, a collection of 37 mountain destinations in the United States, Canada, and Australia, last month unveiled its vision for what the 2020–2021 ski and snowboard season will look like, and just as with all things in this COVID world it will be . . . different.

“I realize not everyone will agree with our approach—some feeling we are being too conservative or aggressive,” Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, wrote in a letter sent to guests on Thursday. But, he added, the main goal was “to design an approach that can remain in place for all of this season.”

Vail Resorts suspended the operations of all of its 34 North American mountain resorts on March 17, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The North American ski and snowboard season will restart on November 6, when Keystone in Colorado will open, weather permitting. The early season will be reserved for pass holders only. Regular lift tickets will go on sale starting on December 8.

The scheduled opening dates for each of the additional resorts can be found online, but the idea is to open all slopes and lifts as soon as possible with these safeguards in place:

  • Face coverings will be required. Guests will need to wear face coverings everywhere on the mountains. No one will be permitted on the mountains without a face covering.
  • Physical distancing on chairlifts and gondolas. Vail will only be seating people in the same party together on lifts, or will put people not in the same party on opposite sides of larger lifts and gondolas.
  • All on-mountain restaurants will be open with physical distancing. Full-service, sit-down restaurants will have limited, physically distanced seating; quick-service restaurants will be reconfigured into a cafeteria-style setting and food options will be limited to ready-to-go hot and cold items; tables will be spaced out and there will be as much outdoor seating as possible.
  • Full-service bars will be closed. Packaged beer and wine will be available but there will be no traditional bar settings. (Goodbye après ski scene—for now.)
  • Transactions will be cashless. All payments at restaurants and throughout the resorts will be cashless.
  • Ski and snowboard rentals will be available with physical distancing. A limited number of customers will be allowed inside at any given time; face coverings are required by guests and employees; when close interactions are necessary (such as fittings), employees will wear eye protection and gloves; equipment will be fully sanitized between each use.
  • Health screenings at ski schools. All employees and participants will be required to undergo an online self-health screening prior to the lessons; class sizes will be limited to six people.

Reservations required and refunds offered

“We need to reconnect with the outdoors, we need to feel normal and energized as we carve down the mountain with crisp alpine air in our faces,” said Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz.

“We need to reconnect with the outdoors, we need to feel normal and energized as we carve down the mountain with crisp alpine air in our faces,” said Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz.

Courtesy of Vail Resorts

In addition to the above health and safety precautions, Vail mountains will be implementing a new reservation system. Season pass holders will be required to make a week-of reservation before arriving at the mountain. They will, however, be able to book up to seven “Priority Reservation Days” for the core season (which runs from December 8 through April 4). The booking window for Priority Reservation Days will open November 6 and will be exclusive to pass holders until December 7.

Lift tickets will be sold for a specific resort on a specific date and will be limited. They will only be sold online—no lift tickets will be sold at ticket windows (the windows will only be for picking up prepurchased lift tickets). Lessons will need to be purchased in advance—no walk-up, day-of lessons will be available.

All season pass holders will receive “Epic Coverage,” which will provide refunds if pass holders can’t book their preferred Priority Reservation Days during the initial booking and haven’t used their pass, or if there is a resort closure due to COVID-19 during a pass holders’ initial Priority Reservation Days.

For those who purchased a 2020–2021 pass product prior to August 27 and no longer want to use it, Vail will reimburse you for the amount paid if you request a refund by September 17. (You can either call customer service or an online form will be available by September 1.)

Vail Resorts includes Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Crested Butte in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe, California; Stowe in Vermont; and Hunter Mountain in New York, among numerous others.

Katz said his hope is that with all the necessary precautions in place, ultimately people can get a much-needed turn in nature.

“Each summer, we all wait patiently for the return of winter, and this year more than ever, we need it,” stated Katz. “We need to reconnect with the outdoors, we need to feel normal and energized as we carve down the mountain with crisp alpine air in our faces.”

Plans at other California, Colorado, and Vermont ski resorts

Following Vail’s announcement, Alterra Mountain Company, a collection of 15 mountain destinations, in September unveiled its plan for the 2020–2021 ski season, which includes controlling visitation levels to avoid overcrowding. Season pass holders will be given priority for reservations, and the number of daily lift tickets will be “tightly regulated” according to the company. Daily lift tickets will be available by advance purchase only; walk-up window sales will not be available.

Rather than release a rigid plan for operations such as Vail’s, Denver-based Alterra stated that as best practices and public health regulations change and evolve, the resorts will develop their strategies accordingly and will communicate them to guests once changes and updates are implemented.

Alterra encompasses Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, and Big Bear Mountain Resort in California; Stratton and Sugarbush Resort in Vermont; Snowshoe in West Virginia; Crystal Mountain in Washington; and Deer Valley Resort and Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah, among others.

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Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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