People (and your favorite skiing frogs) are flocking to outdoor- and mountain-based vacations during the pandemic. Fresh air and plenty of physical distancing space makes ski destinations a great vacation choice this year. Plus, skiing and snowboarding are the ultimate physical distance sports, as you are rarely within 6 to 10 feet of others while doing it and your equipment naturally spaces you out from others. The phrase “no friends on a powder day” epitomizes the anti-social nature of the sport right there. This is the year to break away from the pack! It also makes us wonder what measures the ski resorts put in place to keep employees and guests safe from COVID-19. It turns out that the popular family ski resorts are actually doing a lot! Let’s take a look at what to expect during the Vail Resorts reopening in terms of new safety rules and protocols.
What to Expect During the Vail Resorts Reopening in 2020-2021
After ski resorts across the country temporarily closed in spring to control the spread of COVID-19, the resorts had some time to plan and prepare for the 2020-2021 ski season. Let's hop to it and learn about the safety measures in place to keep guests and employees safe while doing what they love.
First, the hopping good news! Vail Resorts intends to fully reopen with lifts and terrain, as weather and conditions permit. That is regardless of how many people are skiing and riding this season. During this Vail Resorts reopening season, the resorts are limiting capacity, so you'll encounter fewer people on the mountain! That means more wide open runs and fresh snow for you! The bad news is that you may still wait in lift lines at certain spots, with physical distancing protocols and reduced lift capacity in place to keep you safe. But we say better to be safe than sick. Vail resorts owns 37 family ski resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood!
Limited Capacity With a New Reservations System
The ski resorts will control capacity through a new a mountain access reservation system. If this sounds familiar, Walt Disney World also introduced a reservations system to limit capacity in theme parks during the Disney World reopening. Those reduced crowds and the extra physical distancing space make us feel safe when visiting and learning how to navigate this new world. We want to have fun and travel, but we want to stay safe too!
How you make a reservation at Vail Ski Resorts depends on the type of lift ticket you purchase. People who purchase the Epic Pass this fall have priority over other lift ticket purchasers. We expect the most popular days (between Christmas and New Year’s) could fill up quickly. Be aware that booking lodging does not guarantee mountain access. You have to have a dated lift ticket or a pass reservation to ski.
Let’s take a closer look at how to make a Vail Resorts advanced reservation based on your lift ticket during the Vail Resorts reopening.
Epic Pass Holders
Are you purchasing the Epic Pass? There are some benefits to buying the Epic Pass this year (besides saving up to 50 percent off daily lift ticket prices). Epic Pass holders have a window of Priority Reservation Days in which they can book up to seven days (depending on their pass limits) for the core ski season. If someone buys a 4-Day Epic Pass, they could book up to four days. From Nov. 6 through Dec. 7, the only people who can make ski reservations for the season are people who have purchased the Epic Pass.
On top of that, Epic Pass holders get exclusive early season access from each mountain's season opening until Dec. 8. Note that you'll need to make reservations to ski during the early season too. If you have a reservation, you head straight to the lifts.Undercover Tourist is selling discount 4-, 5- 6-, 7-day and unlimited Epic Passes for 2020-2021!
If you have a reservation, you head straight to the lifts. This online system reduces contact between employees and guests at ticket windows.
We get that it's hard to plan those Priority Reservations Days in advance this year. You might need to make changes as your ski days approach. Or the day before you ski, that friend you saw last week calls to tell you he or she tested positive for COVD-19 and you need to cancel your ski day just in case. People who wish to cancel a reservation should do so before 12:00 a.m. of the planned ski date.
Lift Ticket Buyers
Lift tickets go on sale Dec. 8. Lift tickets are for a specific resort and date. No further reservation is needed. Do book early though, because popular ski days may fill up. Most days it will not be a problem, but holidays and weekends may reach capacity. If same-day tickets are available, you will still purchase them online.
It would be irresponsible of your froggy frogs not to mention that purchasing single-day lift tickets like this is the most expensive way to buy lift tickets. Plus you will miss out on the priority reservations period. So if you are planning to ski at least 4 days this season, consider an Epic Pass to get priority reservations and the most flexibility.
Ski Lesson Participants
People with reserved ski lessons do not need to make a separate reservation. Their mountain access reservation is included with the purchase of the ski lesson and lift ticket.
New Vail Resorts Reopening Safety Measures
You can expect several changes at the ski resorts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Vail resorts created guidelines for face coverings, physical distancing measures, increased cleaning and other protocols to protect employees and guests.
Wearing a face covering while skiing is an easy one. We already wear face coverings when we ski to protect our face from sun, cold and precipitation. Now they will be required to access the mountain. All people ages 3 and up must wear face covering that cover the nose and mouth while loading and riding on chairlifts and in gondolas, inside all buildings, and during all ski and snowboard lessons. No one will be permitted on the mountain without a face covering. Face coverings are recommended while actively skiing and snowboarding. However, they are not required during those physical acts, as long as the guest is maintaining proper physical distance and is not in the vicinity of others.
What about neck gaiters? Neck gaiters are a big part of ski clothing and cloth neck gaiters (and other facial coverings) that cover a person’s mouth and nose are allowed. There are no exceptions for people who will not or cannot wear a facial covering.
Hop tip: Make sure to choose a breathable facial covering that stays up and that you can manage while wearing a helmet. Try everything on at home so you can see how it works together. Also, have backups in case your facial covering gets wet from the moisture when you exhale. We always bring extra masks with us to theme parks to switch out when they get wet and sweaty. The same goes for skiing. Rotating the gaiter to find a dry spot works in a pinch.
Physical Distancing Measures
The ski resorts are taking several measures to allow for physical distancing to ensure a safe experience during the Vail resorts reopening. Here are a few changes you can expect at ski resorts this year:
Capacity Management - The resorts are managing the number of people on the mountains with a new reservations system for the Vail Resorts Reopening and season.
Chair Lifts and Gondolas - Attendants only load related parties (guests skiing and riding together) on chairlifts and gondolas or distanced if possible. For example, they may load two singles on opposite sides of a four-person lift, two singles or two doubles on opposite sides of a six-person lift, or two singles on opposite sides of larger gondola cabins.
Lift Lines - The Vail Resorts are implementing the use of markers to help space guests out in lift lines. Being that skis are about 6 feet long in many cases, people already naturally space themselves about 6 feet from the people in front and back of them in lift lines. The real changes may come in spacing out the distance between rows. Guests three and up are required to wear face coverings at all times while in lift mazes and when riding chairlifts and gondolas.
Single lines are not going away, however, lift operators may space single riders away from other guests on lifts and gondolas. If you get seated in a gondola with another person who is not in your party, you both have to do your part to keep your nose and mouth covered. No employee is there to police you. Hopfully, by now you are a conscientious mask wearer. All windows and vents of the gondola remain open for air flow.
Restaurants and other indoor spaces - The resorts manage the number of people coming in and out of restaurants. Each restaurant may call for a different approach that is tailored to its layout and flow. In general, here’s what to expect at Vail resorts restaurants this season. Full-service, sit-down restaurants will operate at reduced capacity with reduced seating and more space between tables. They recommend making reservations, especially for lunch.
Large, quick-service restaurants are being reconfigured for a cafeteria-style approach, with guests in a single line that passes all food areas on the way to the register. (This reduces the scramble of people heading in different directions.) All restaurant transactions will be cashless unless required by local laws. It’s still early in the season, but it’s possible that new line wait technology (such as a type of mobile order that our theme park readers may be familiar with) could be implemented.
In the interest of safety and reducing contact points, the ski resorts are encouraging guests to bring food, snacks and water. We always stash a sandwich and some snack in our pockets anyway to save money at the ski lodges. Now you may also be saving people from possible virus transmission. But no matter what food you eat, the restaurant’s or your own, they ask that you be considerate of other guests and consume food in a timely manner so that others can have your table. With limited capacity, we all have to look out for one another this season.
Try dining at less popular times, getting an early or late lunch to avoid the rush. If a restaurant reaches capacity, employees ask guests to either visit another restaurant or wait until others leave before they enter. Bad weather days that make outdoor dining unavailable will definitely create more demand for indoor seating, so choose your breaks wisely those days. Whenever weather permits, choose outdoor seating.
Bars - On-mountain full-service bars remain closed, as bars are not considered safe activities when you want to contain the spread of COVID-19. For those of you who like to hit the bars après ski, it looks like the year to try some new après activities. We have a few family-friendly suggestions in our post on tips for après ski with kids. Most locations still sell packaged wine and beer.
As we’ve seen with theme parks and restaurants, ski resorts implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfecting. The gondola cabins are disinfected daily. Employees will frequently clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces with EPA-approved products that kill the COVID-19 virus.
Ski School Protocols
Group and private lessons are offered this year. More details are to come as the resorts determine the safest way to make this hoppen. The ski school limits all class sizes to six people. All participants undergo an online self-health screening prior to arriving at the mountain. Instructors also undergo daily health screenings.
We always recommend making advance lesson reservations to save money and to ensure availability. But this year it’s required. Purchase all ski lessons in advance — no walk-up, day-of lessons are available.
Employees undergo undergo a daily health check. Vail Resorts is ensuring employees stay home if sick. At work, employees wear facial coverings, and in some cases eye protection and gloves too.
The mountain equipment rental locations are open this winter. Of course, the resorts will manage the number of people allowed inside with physical distancing measures. Hop back as the season approaches for specific details. Each mountain’s procedures and rules may vary according local regulations. Guests and employees wear facial coverings in the shop. For close interactions, employees wear eye protection and gloves. The employees sanitize and disinfect equipment between use. Look for expanded rental delivery service as well. It’s a good idea to reserve equipment in advance.
As you can expect, the resorts have instituted property-wide enhanced cleaning measures. They have limited touchpoints at check in, and have moved to cashless transactions. There are new physical distancing policies and shared space guidelines for elevators. Being flexible is important when traveling this year. Vail Resorts have relaxed lodging booking and cancellation policies so guests have the ability to change plans without penalty.
Be aware that booking lodging does not guarantee mountain access. You have to have a dated lift ticket or a pass reservation to ski. If you are flying to mountains, be sure to find our your airline’s cancellation policies before flying. We have more tips for flying with skis and on ways to save when flying to Colorado, flying to Lake Tahoe or flying to Utah.
Non-skiers in Your Party
What about non-skiing family members? If you have non-skiing family members coming with you on your trip, the resorts are asking that non-skiing and non-riding guest limit their time in the lodges. That ensures that all skiing and riding guests with reservations can utilize the facilities. Non-skiers should find other things to do. How about any of these ideas for winter family fun beyond the ski slopes. Do your research this year to check on availability in advance and even make reservations if needed. You can never go wrong with good old snow play, sledding or building a snowman. We love free outdoor entertainment!
Closed or Unavailable Programs in 2020-2021
You may find some services are not operating this season. The ski resorts are not offering childcare for guests this winter season, so plan accordingly if you have small tadpoles. The resorts are focusing on their on-mountain operations and skiing programs.
A few other fun extras you might usually get to enjoy on the mountain are not returning. We love the champagne toast at Tost on the mountain and free s'mores at Northstar, but Northstar had to cancel them for the season. Be sure to check ahead of time to find out what services and forms of entertainment are returning (or are temporarily suspended) at your favorite resort this year.
Hopfully, we’ve answered any questions you have about what to expect during the Vail Resorts reopening for ski season in relations to COVID-19. If you need to purchase the Epic Pass, discount ski hotels or car rental, you can get a hoppin’ deal when booking with your little green froggy friends. Keep hopping back for further updates as the season progresses.