Many of America’s best-known ski resorts don’t require a reservation to access the mountain this season, although owners are less in agreement with a host of other policies.
Last season, with coronavirus vaccines not being available to many people until late winter, many ski resorts across the country pledged to adopt similar operating practices. There were advance reservations, limited ticket sales, and mask policies.
This year, most of the ski areas that have announced their health policy for the coming season have abandoned mountain access reservations and exterior masking requirements. Among this group is the country’s largest owner, Vail Resorts,
which will not require a reservation or limit the number of lift tickets sold.
However, other mountains are not so sure that they have no ticket limit.
Some Alterra Mountain Co. resorts may choose to limit the number of tickets sold to help manage capacity due to pent-up demand, says Erik Forsell, director of marketing for Alterra. 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 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.
The ski areas hosted 59 million visits by skiers and snowboarders during the 2020-21 ski season, making it the fifth best season on record, according to the NSAA. And they expect another busy season.
Here is what you need to know before booking.
Outdoor health rules
Most ski resorts forced visitors to wear masks outside last year, according to local ordinances. This season, ski areas will largely get rid of this practice. Vail Resorts will not require face coverings outdoors, in elevator lines, or on chair lifts or gondolas, unless required by local public health ordinances. One exception: Whistler Blackcomb in Canada requires face coverings on gondolas in accordance with local government mandates.
Last season, many resorts required skiers to use chairlifts and gondolas only with their party members, to promote social distancing. Some resorts, including the skier-only Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, will offer guests this option this season. But Vail Resorts, whose 34 North American resorts are among the largest on the continent, will load full-capacity elevators and gondolas and keep gondola windows open, according to Sara Olson, vice president of communications.
Customers at some resorts experienced long ski lift lines last winter, in part because of increased demand and social distancing. With even more visitors expected this season, the resorts are gearing up to handle the crowds.
Vail Resorts has upgraded or added elevators at five of its resorts this season.
The company analyzed its capacity and guest models to identify the most efficient way to load elevators with different group sizes, and will apply those strategies this season, Ms. Olson said.
Other stations are trying a different approach.
Station operator Powdr is launching dedicated rapid access routes this season at four of its hill stations: Copper Mountain in Colorado, Killington in Vermont, Mt. Bachelor in Oregon and Snowbird in Utah. To access the tracks, which will be located at the most popular ski lifts at each hill station, customers will need to purchase a daily Fast Tracks pass. They’ll start at $ 49 per day, but will have dynamic pricing based on mountain, peak times, holidays, and day of the week, and go on sale November 1.
Ski areas are hiring for the winter season and some anticipate challenges in recruiting enough workers. Visitors should come to the mountain with more patience given the current labor shortages, says Molly Mahar, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
While many resorts will have fewer rules outside, interior protocols will remain in 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 restrooms and retail and rental locations.
But some rules may vary. Vail Resorts will require proof of vaccination for guests 12 years of age 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 distance,” Ms. Olson said.
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One way to keep indoor dining spaces less cluttered is to encourage outdoor dining. Many ski resorts have added more outdoor seating during the pandemic and plan to keep them this year. Alterra added mobile ordering at more than 40 food and beverage outlets in six ski destinations last season.
More and more companies are implementing vaccination rules for employees. All employees of Vail Resorts must be vaccinated. Powdr will demand that all employees at its hill stations in North America be fully immunized by December 10. The Arapahoe Basin, Colorado, also announced employee vaccination requirements.
The Alta ski area in Utah, which adjoins the Powdr-operated Snowbird but is independent, only requires vaccination for employees who live in collective housing. Policy is subject to change, a spokeswoman said.
Write to Allison Pohle at [email protected]
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