“Is it safe to ski or snowboard during COVID-19?” We’ve heard this question a lot recently, especially as ski season gears up around the USA and Canada. Many experts say that, with the right precautions and regulations in place, it is largely safe to ski or snowboard during the pandemic. However, ski resorts have drastically changed the way they operate to accommodate guests’ safety this year, so your favorite slopes might look a little bit different this year.

We hit the slopes very early this season to observe how ski resorts are changing their policies to keep skiers and riders safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on what we’ve been seeing, here are some of the changes you can expect during the 2020-2021 ski season.

Best women's ski jackets: woman skiing in red jacket with chairlift in the background

Required Face Coverings

As you may expect, face coverings are a requirement in all public areas of most resorts, unless you are eating or drinking. If you use a neck warmer while you ski or ride, that should be sufficient as long as you continue to keep 6 feet of distance from those not in your party.

Some resorts have specified that it’s okay to take off your mask while skiing or riding, while others have a blanket rule about face coverings at all times. We saw the face covering rules being heavily enforced throughout the ski resorts we visited. Be sure to check the individual resort’s website for the most up-to-date rules, and when in doubt, wear your mask.

Longer, Socially Distant Lift Lines

Most ski resorts’ websites mention that lift lines will be socially distant, with 6 feet of distance between each party. Additionally, most lifts were NOT shared, unless they were 6-seat lifts with one small party on either end. Because of the reduced capacity of the lifts, lines tended to be longer than we expected, even during the early season.

While the rules certainly existed, we found this guideline to be…not well managed. Most of the fellow skiers and riders in lines encroached on our personal space, some even running into us from behind! If you’re planning on going skiing, please respect people’s space and keep your distance, even if the lift managers don’t say anything. It’s just common courtesy to keep everyone safe.

Ski lifts in mountains

Limited Lodge Space & Locker Options

Ski resorts are reducing their lodge space in an attempt to limit the amount of indoor interaction that’s going on. Yup, for those of you who love the apres-ski life, this unfortunately isn’t your year. We saw that many bars and restaurants were closed or required registration to enter, even if you were just buying a bottle of water or a small snack. Keep this in mind when you’re planning what to do for meals or break times.

Most of the lodges we researched and visited mentioned that locker rentals and storage would not be available on-site, and that guests were recommended to keep belongings in their cars. This was rather inconvenient for those of us who want to bring water or other non-slope belongings without running back and forth to the parking lots, which were often far from the lifts. However, it’s a safety measure that’s there for a reason, so we adhered happily to it.

Advance Reservations for Basically Everything

From dining to lift tickets, lessons and rentals, you’ll need a reservation for basically everything. Some resorts aren’t doing window ticket sales at all in order to reduce the amount of contact needed. Instead, this year is heavily favoring online reservations for lift tickets, as well as for rentals and group lessons. Many rentals are also curbside pickup only to reduce indoor lines and crowding.

Additionally, many resorts’ dining areas are only open to those with reservations only, and will have limited capacity and time limits. We wanted to buy some water and snacks from one of the on-site snack bars and had to make a reservation just to enter the building!

The bottom line? Aim to plan your meals, breaks, and skiing around your reservations, and assume you won’t be able to just show up anywhere and snag a ticket. If you plan in advance, you’ll be sure to get what you want.

Breckenridge, Colorado Winter Panorama. Beautiful Clear Sunny Day in Breckenridge, CO, United States.

Priority for Passholders

While passholders have always, in some ways, held priority at ski resorts, this year it will be especially obvious. Many resorts give preference to passholders for booking lift tickets and lodging. If there are specific resorts you go to regularly, consider getting a season pass or investing in a multi-resort pass like Epic or Ikon.

Modified Rental & Group Lesson Policies

There isn’t a very consistent way that ski resorts are handling rentals and group lessons. In our research, it really depends on the staffing and the capacity of each resort. Many resorts are offering curbside pickup for rentals and group lessons with an advance booking only. Walk-up windows, in our experience, were largely reduced this year in favor of online reservations.

If we were to give our two cents on rentals, we’d recommend purchasing your own helmet and goggles this year to prevent any risk of infection, and renting all other gear if you need to.

Additional Paperwork

Depending on each state’s guidelines and whether you’re traveling out of state or not, you may need to fill out additional paperwork before entering a resort or taking a lesson. These are typically provided by the state and are required for contact tracing and ensuring that visiting guests are adhering to the state’s COVID-19 tourism protocols. Each state has its own rules when it comes to entry from out of state, some of which include mandatory negative test results, mandatory quarantines, or proof of essential travel. Check each state’s individual regulations for more specific information.

Slight Chaos, Especially In The Beginning

Just like the rest of us, ski resorts are new at this whole pandemic thing, too. After skiing at a few different resorts, we did notice that there have been some communication issues among staff regarding protocols and processes during this new era. When we were at one ski resort, we were asked to fill out an online form before taking a snowboarding lesson…but no one on-site seemed to have access to the link or the QR code to the form!

As frustrating as it may be, it’s apparent that the resorts are learning what works in this time, too. Have patience and be persistent if you’re unable to get the answers you need – speak to managers to ask questions if the people at the ticket windows or in reception can’t help.

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