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 turns out that the popular family ski resorts are actually doing a lot to protect employees and guests from COVID-19! This post walks through the Vail Resorts' COVID safety rules and protocols. Let's hop to it and learn about the safety measures in place to keep guests and employees safe while doing what they love.
One thing to keep track of in leading up to your trip is any travel restrictions for either where you live or where you want to visit. For example, during the last three weeks of 2020, Lake Tahoe and other California ski resorts are affected by a Regional Stay-at-Home Order. Even though the ski resorts remain open, the order closes hotels to tourists and can affect dining. Stay abreast of travel changes during the season.
What to Expect During the Vail Resorts Reopening and the 2020-2021 Season
First, the hopping good news! Vail Resorts fully reopened with lifts and terrain, as weather and conditions permitted this season. The Vail 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 control capacity through a new mountain access reservation system. If this sounds familiar, Walt Disney World also introduced a reservations system to limit capacity in theme parks during its reopening. These reservation systems reduce crowds and allow extra physical distancing space.
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. Everyone must make an advance online reservation to get on the mountain, including those taking ski lessons. You cannot purchase lift tickets in person, and we highly recommend booking as far in advance as you can. Be aware that booking lodging does not guarantee mountain access. You have to have a dated lift ticket, ski lesson or 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 (and Epic Day) Holders
Do you have the Epic Pass? There are some benefits to using the Epic Pass this year (besides saving up to 50 percent off daily lift ticket prices). Epic Pass and Epic Day Pass holders had a window of Priority Reservation Days in which they could book up to seven days (depending on their pass limits) for the core ski season. The core season is Dec. 8, 2020, to April 4, 2021. 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 could make ski reservations for the season were people who had purchased the Epic Pass.
On top of that, Epic Pass holders got exclusive early season access from each mountain's season opening until Dec. 8. Note that skiers needed to make reservations to ski during the early season too. If you have a reservation, you head straight to the lifts. While we were selling discount 4-, 5- 6-, 7-day and unlimited Epic Passes for 2020-2021, our ticket sales have ended for the season. Hop back next spring, summer and fall for the best deals for next season!
If you have a reservation, you'll head straight to the lifts. This online system reduces contact between employees and guests at ticket windows. Speaking of ticket windows, you have to purchase lift tickets online in advance.
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.
How to Reserve
The Priority Reservation Dates were Nov. 6 through Dec. 7. The reservations opened at 8 a.m. MST, although you can join the waiting room as early as 7 a.m.
Now that the priority reservation period has ended, you can still make a reservation through the system. We recently booked our ski trip for 2021, and it was very easy.
Here's how to make a reservation:
- Sign into your account on the EpicPass site.
- Select the first resort you want to book.
- Pick the days you want to ski (based on what your pass type allows).
- Choose the pass holders in your account who will be skiing with you.
- Enter your contact information and press complete reservation.
If you are planning to book at more than one resort, repeat the process for each resort. You may make up to seven Priority Reservation Days (depending on your pass). You will receive an email confirmation. If you want to make changes to your selections, you may do so as of Nov. 17.
Throughout the season, you may continue to make week-of reservations as long as your pass allows it.
Lift Ticket Buyers
Lift tickets went 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. If same-day tickets are available, you will still purchase them online, but with limited capacity, most days will be filling up in advance. This is doubly true for holidays and weekends!
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 four 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 at least a two-layer face covering that covers 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 two-layer cloth neck gaiters (and other facial coverings) that meet CDC guidelines and 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 ages 3 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 airflow.
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. The ski school limits all class sizes to six people. All participants undergo an online self-health screening (and sign a COVID-19 waiver) prior to participating in lessons. 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. All sign-ups have to be online.
Employees 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. Each mountain’s procedures and rules may vary according to 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 the mountains, be sure to find out 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, and warm chocolate chip cookies at Beaver Creek, but they are canceled for now. 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 relation to COVID-19. If you need to purchase the Epic Pass (for next season once they go on sale), 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.