Many of America’s best-known ski resorts aren’t requiring reservations to access the mountain this season, though owners are in less agreement on a host of other policies.
Last season, with coronavirus vaccines only becoming available to many people late in the winter, many ski resorts across the country committed to similar operating practices. There were advance reservations, limited ticket sales and mask policies.
This year, most ski areas that have announced their health policies for the coming season have ditched the mountain-access reservations and outdoor masking requirements. Among this group is the country’s largest owner,
which won’t require reservations or limit the number of lift tickets sold.
Other mountains aren’t so sure about having no ticket limits, however.
Some Alterra Mountain Co. resorts might choose to limit the number of tickets sold to help manage capacity due to pent-up demand, says Erik Forsell, Alterra’s chief marketing officer. In Wyoming, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will limit daily capacity and require reservations for Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective pass holders.
“I think this year is going to be a little bit trickier, because it’s going to be more individualized,” says Adrienne Saia Isaac, director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Areas Association.
Ski areas saw 59 million visits from skiers and snowboarders in the 2020-21 ski season, making it the fifth-best season on record, according to the NSAA. And they expect another busy season.
Here’s more on what to know before you book.
Outdoor Health Rules
Most ski resorts required visitors to wear masks outdoors last year, in compliance with local ordinances. This season, ski areas will largely get rid of that practice. Vail Resorts won’t require face coverings outdoors, in lift lines or on chair lifts or gondolas, unless required by local public-health ordinances. An exception: Whistler Blackcomb, in Canada, requires face coverings on gondolas in accordance with local government mandates.
Last season, many resorts required skiers to ride chair lifts and gondolas only with members of their party, to promote social distancing. Some resorts, including skiers-only Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, will give guests that option this season. But Vail Resorts, whose 34 North American resorts include some of the largest on the continent, will load lifts and gondolas at normal capacity and keep gondola windows open, according to Sara Olson, vice president of communications.
Guests at some resorts experienced long lift lines last winter, due in part to increased demand and social distancing. With more visitors expected again this season, resorts are preparing to manage crowds.
Vail Resorts has upgraded or added lifts at five of its resorts this season.
The company analyzed its capacity and guest patterns to identify the most efficient way to load lifts with different group sizes, and will apply those strategies this season, Ms. Olson said.
Other resorts are trying a different approach.
Resort operator Powdr is launching dedicated fast-access lanes at four of its mountain resorts this season: Copper Mountain in Colorado, Killington in Vermont, Mt. Bachelor in Oregon and Snowbird in Utah. To access the lanes, which will be located at the most popular lifts at each mountain resort, guests will need to purchase a daily Fast Tracks pass. They will start at $49 a day, but have dynamic pricing based on the mountain, peak periods, holidays and day of the week, and go on sale Nov. 1.
Ski areas are hiring for the winter season, and some anticipate challenges recruiting enough workers. Visitors should come to the mountain with extra patience given current labor shortages, says Molly Mahar, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
While many resorts will have fewer rules outside, inside protocols will remain at many lodges and restaurants. Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch Resort will require masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The same is true at all Vail Resorts, including in restrooms and retail and rental locations.
But some rules can vary. Vail Resorts will require proof of vaccination for guests ages 12 and older at large indoor cafeteria-style restaurants, but not at other mountain restaurants. “Full-service restaurants are more spacious, with party-specific seating, providing natural physical distancing,” Ms. Olson said.
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One way to keep indoor eating spaces less crowded is to encourage more outdoor eating. Many ski areas added more outdoor seating during the pandemic and plan to keep it this year. Alterra added mobile ordering at more than 40 food and beverage outlets across six ski destinations last season.
More companies are instituting vaccination rules for employees. All Vail Resorts employees are required to be vaccinated. Powdr will require all employees at its North American mountain resorts to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 10. Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin also announced employee vaccination requirements.
Utah’s Alta Ski Area, which is next to Powdr-operated Snowbird but is independent, only requires employees who live in shared employee housing to be vaccinated. The policy is subject to change, a spokeswoman says.
Write to Allison Pohle at [email protected]
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