We are all eager to ski again, especially since our 2019-20 ski season ended abruptly with Covid closures mid-March. All Corona puns aside, our ski experience will change for the foreseeable future. What will never change is the joy of skiing, the freedom on being outside on a glorious snow-covered mountainside, the rush of flying downhill, the pull of gravity and the g-force of well-arced turn. Arriving at your ski resort next season though… will feel different…
So what does skiing look like next season? Some thoughts on crushing cord and cruising pow in pandemic times.
“Ride with your party” may well be the new protocol. No that’s not party as in “hey nice to meet you, let’s party!” conversations on the chairlift. New social distancing while skiing could mean you only ride the chair or load the gondola with your family members that you arrived with. I loved (yes past tense) meeting new peeps on the chairlift, a behavior that is likely benched for now. I suppose Six and Eight passenger chairs might be able to allow two singles or two couples seated on opposite ends. Is that 6’ of separation (liftees please chime in)? Do you put the Big Sky or Okemo bubble down during your ascent or keep the air flowing? I do love the bubble on cold, windy, wet snow days, but I am willing to make concessions – fresh air for freshies.
“Ski-Times” like golf Tee-Times are being considered for gondolas, even trams. Imagine reserving your Gondi or Tram time. Your 9:15am car is ready and sanitized for you, and you are instructed to “please proceed and ride only with your party.”
Trams are admittedly a tricky situation. I am picturing last season’s Snowbird and Jackson Hole’s tram lines and tram cars absolutely packed on a powder morning. A thing of the past? Ski resorts may have to configure capacity with appropriate distancing and only load that number of skiers and riders, with X marks where you are to stand on the tram floor. I do love the window spot… will there be a premium for that? Kidding, I hope. Maybe trams are on hold for next season, or by reservation only. You may have to work harder to get that big vert at the ‘Bird then. Stay tuned.
Pomas can make a strong come back, naturally distanced and isolated with a disc between your legs – oh the retro fun! Mad River Glen should thrive with their Single Chair, naturally quarantined on your one-seater for your long lonesome ride up!
T-Bars you’ll be paired only with your partner, otherwise you ride solo and do the balancing act with an L under your butt. Skilled snowboarders have been mastering this for years.
Speaking of lift lines, will corrals need to be bigger to keep skiers and riders 6 feet apart in the queue? I’m pondering a few resort that already have limited space for their lift line corrals without interrupting skier flow out onto the trail or into the resort base space.
Limited Skier Visits? Will ski resorts need to limit the number of skiers on the mountain for the day to avoid long lines and over-crowding? Powder Mountain in Utah has been limiting to 1,500 ski tickets sold each day for years, making for a genuinely unique experience on their vast 7,000+ acres. Deer Valley limits ticket sales to assure everyone has a seat at lunch, they’ll have to reduce and reconfigure that seating now.
Mountain Lodges serving food, and ski area restrooms, will have to mandate greater spacing and more strict cleaning policies (well, I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming that at certain ski area bathrooms – lol). Buffets are likely bye-bye. I did enjoy Vail’s Two Elk salad bar, The Summit at Snowbird’s central self-serve too. As a safer template, Snowbasin has a well-designed “Servery” in the palatial Earl’s Lodge at the base of the slopes with an excellent cafeteria style service . Thinking about Snowbasin’s Turkey Pot Pie right now! Mmmm.
As for Passes, many ski resorts are offering very forgiving season pass promises to encourage you to commit to next season. Vail’s Epic Pass has Epic Coverage – offering 2020-21 pass purchasers free insurance with refunds available in the event of resort closures (e.g. COVID-19), job loss, illness, even injury, a full or prorated refund. Also EpicPass buyers this past season can receive a credit on next year’s purchase of 20 to 80% depending upon their usage last winter. Since Vail Resorts tracks your every move on their mountains, they are able to calculate your usage, and contact you directly with their tabulation. So all those metrics and data collected can help you – or hurt you – if you hit big mountain milestones on Vail Resort’s EpicMix leaderboard – they know.
IKON pass holders are offered a $200 credit ($100 for the IKON Base Pass) toward next season’s pass, and IKON has added Adventure Assurance giving the flexibility to defer your pass to 2021-22. So there’s some compensation from IKON Pass at their 43 ski resorts combined on one pass.
Uphill skiing has already been trending upwards in recent years. This no-lift ski approach to alpine should continue to thrive as skiers seek out back-country experiences and true distancing. Hopefully uphill skiers will access remote terrain with appropriate snow safety and avalanche awareness, versus just skinning up groomed slopes and skiing down resort trails (poaching) without paying their share by buying lift tickets or a pass, or paying only $10 bucks. Ok, its a pet peeve of mine.
Après Ski? Say goodbye for now to the packed party scene at the Matterhorn, Foggy Goggle, Red Lion, Trap Bar, Grizzly… all of our favorite après ski bars …the list goes on… Some ski regions were hot spots for “sharing” the virus last ski season. Après ski at Ischgl come to mind. We’ve skied this Austrian resort and can report the Alps-style après ski is huge, lots of hugging, and chugging, dancing, sharing drinks and super close contact included! Yeah, that’s no longer the scene ski friends (insert sad face here).
Ok, so we have more questions than answers about next season’s ski experience. Travel to the Alps, I doubt it? Japan, um no. Big events, probably not? It’s a curious time, unprecedented.
But if there is a will, there is a way. I know the ski industry and our community of skiers are resourceful passionate people and there will be a plan to SKI! I will not even contemplate ski resorts NOT opening next winter, call me naïve, I prefer optimistic and hopeful …
Stay well, stay safe, stay in ski shape – winter is coming!
Heather – Travel Writer, Skier since 1969