In many ways skiing is the perfect winter activity for COVID-19 safety: It’s a fundamentally solo outdoor sport.
But while skiers and snowboarders will find the same overall experience on the slopes this year, ski areas across the Northeast are implementing a variety of pandemic safety measures that you’ll notice even before you pull into the parking lot.
Here’s what you should know when planning your ski trip.
Advance tickets (mostly) required
To meet social-distancing requirements, for example, guests are being strongly urged to buy tickets online. Some ski areas, like Killington in Vermont, Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Mass., and New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee and Pats Peak, are only selling tickets by advance reservation.
Killington also has outdoor kiosks for touchless pickup of lift passes.
Selling-out isn’t a problem
The good news for your ski trip is that, despite limits on ticket sales and excellent snow conditions heading into the peak of ski season, resorts report few instances of completely selling out.
Half- and full-day lift tickets remain the norm, but Wachusett Mountain has shifted to four daily sessions: morning, afternoon, early evening and late evening. The change is intended to keep skiers on the slopes and out of the facilities as much as possible, said Tom Meyers, Wachusett’s marketing director.
“If you come for a four-hour session, you’ll probably just ski for four hours and just head out” rather than stopping for food or warming up, he said.
Base lodge access
Probably the biggest changes visitors will notice during their ski trip this COVID winter are restrictions on access to base lodges and new rules for queuing, boarding and riding chairlifts, gondolas and trams to the slopes. Just like your local restaurants, ski areas are operating at reduced capacity indoors and outdoors. Ski areas like Killington in Vermont are operating at 50% of capacity indoors; at Wachusett Mountain, it’s just 25%.
Most resorts are requiring skiers to get dressed in their vehicles and head directly to the lifts; storing belongings in the lodge is generally prohibited.
“Your car is now your base lodge,” Meyers said. Reducing the number of people getting dressed indoors helps maintain social distancing and allows the resort to allocate its precious capacity to those looking to warm up with some hot food or a few minutes in front of the fire between runs, he said.
At Pats Peak, in Henniker, N.H., the layout of the lodge has been reimagined, and close to 50% of the furniture has been removed to allow for more space, said Lori Rowell, director of marketing. The ski area has added more than 30 tables to the outdoor seating area, along with additional heaters and wind blocks.
Guests can order cafeteria food from their smartphones and pick it up at an outdoor window, and a new food truck on-site is serving tacos. And while bathrooms are open in the lodge, there are also heated restrooms outdoors for those who don’t want to go inside.
At Wachusett, guests will find more outdoor warming areas equipped with propane heaters and wind screens – an especially welcome amenity for night skiing.
Also new at larger, busier resorts like Killington are free – but mandatory – parking reservations on weekends, another change aimed at controlling capacity.
On the slopes
While you can still rent equipment or take a ski lesson, you might find the rental operation outdoors, and the size of group lessons reduced (another good argument for making reservations in advance).
Gone for now are friendly chats with strangers on the ski lift. Resorts are not only enforcing social distancing on lift lines – including keeping empty lanes between boarding gates – but also limiting each chair to members of the same party.
Single skiers will ride solo, while more chairs will go up the mountain at less than full capacity. “Because we’re not filling every chair and spacing people out, the lines look longer than they are,” said Courtney DiFiore, public relations and social media manager at Killington. In reality, “You’re not going to see a big difference in wait times because we’re limiting capacity [at the resort overall],” she said.
Apres-ski fun also has taken a hit during the pandemic.Enjoying celebratory drinks at the bar after a day on the slopes will have to wait until at least next season, live music is generally on pause, and even some traditional outdoor gatherings – like tailgating on The Beach at Mount Sunapee – have been discontinued. And most, if not all, resorts have shuttered their daycare operations.
As for masks, even if you didn’t wear one to ski before, you’ll need to now.
“Everyone has to wear a mask unless they’re skiing or riding or sitting and eating,” DiFiore said.
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Are you planning a ski trip this year? Have you already been? Tell us about your experience in the comments.