The fresh mountain air is calling us. Being that our ski season got cut short in the spring 2020, we have toadally enjoyed getting back to the snow this year. If you purchased the Ikon Pass for the 2020-2021 ski season (or you plan to purchase advance lift tickets) you might be wondering what skiing during a pandemic will look like.
While we encounter some changes to keep guests and employees safe, we know that skiing and snowboarding have always been outdoor, open-air and physically distanced activities. But is it safe? Each destination has instituted new health and safety protocols in light of COVID-19 to keep guest and employees safe. Many of the family-friendly mountain resorts on the Ikon Pass are part of the Alterra Mountain Company. Here’s what to expect when the Ikon Pass destinations reopen for skiing and riding in 2020-2021, with a focus on the Alterra Mountain Company destinations.
What to Expect When the Ikon Pass Destinations Reopen
The ski season is underway! You can expect a few changes to your ski experience this year no matter where you ski. With capacity controls, restricted lift ticket sales, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, and crowd management of people both on and off the mountain, things will look a little different. You may feel nervous spending money on a ski pass during a pandemic. (Psst ... we have hopped into Ikon Pass sales and offered 4-day Session Passes, Base Passes and the full season pass. They are sold out for 2020-2021. Hop back early to purchase before the next ski season.)
If you value spontaneity and flexibility, this is the year to have an Ikon Pass. Why? The resorts are prioritizing the Ikon Pass holders and are greatly reducing the availability of daily lift tickets. The destinations will not even offer same-day walk-up tickets. With all these differences, some things remain the same. Once you are skiing and riding down the mountain, the experience will be just as normal as it ever was. Whether you bought a pass before sales ended or not, you'll find some hopful information below. (FYI: If you do not have a pass, you'll want to be sure to purchase any necessary lift tickets in advance because you cannot purchase same day walk-up tickets.)
What Is Alterra?
Before we get started, let’s briefly introduce the Alterra Mountain Company. Alterra issues the Ikon Pass. Alterra is a family of popular family ski destinations. These mountains are part of the multi-resort season pass and lift tickets, the Ikon Pass, along with several other partner resorts. Alterra Mountain Company is comprised of Steamboat, Winter Park, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Big Bear Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, Solitude, Stratton, Sugarbush, Snowshoe, Tremblant, Blue Mountain, Crystal Mountain and CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures. We are going to take a closer look at what to expect at Alterra Mountain Company destinations when they reopen in terms of new safety rules and protocols as well as a brief look at what you need to know about the other destinations. It's likely, due to travel restrictions, you'll be looking at domestic destinations anyway.
Other Ski Destinations Outside Alterra
What about the partner destinations on the Ikon Pass? Of course, there are several other popular mountains on the Ikon Pass that are not part of Alterra, such as Jackson Hole, Alta, Snowbird and the Aspens, just to name a few. Some may follow similar protocols as Alterra, but not all of them do, so definitely do your research if you use you plan to use your Ikon Pass to ski at them. Some may require advance reservations or have restricted days or be blocked from certain passes. Hop over to our post on the Ikon Pass to see the complete list, accessibility by pass and more.
Aspen Snowmass has the tightest restrictions on visiting this season. Guests must get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival and must be symptom-free for 10 days prior to travel. Guests also must sign a Traveler Affdavit that states that they have tested negative for COVID-19 and that they will abide by the county's 5 Commitments of Containment. That means travelers will:
- Maintain six feet from anyone not in their household
- Wash hands often
- Cover the face in public
- Stay home when sick
- Seek testing immediately and self-report if experiencing symptoms.
Limited Capacity and Advance Lift ticket Reservations
The Alterra destinations fully reopened with the safety and health of skiers, employees and members of the surrounding communities in mind. Each destination complies with local, county and state regulations, so you may encounter slight differences if you resort hop this season. Alterra is limiting capacity through reduced day ticket sales, so that means fewer people will be on the mountain! This equates to wide-open runs and more fresh snow for you! One thing to be aware of is that lifts and gondolas will not be fully utilized in order to separate parties not traveling together. That means you might wait longer in lift lines at really popular spots (with physical distancing protocols in place to keep you safe). But we would rather be safe than sick.
In order to provide priority access to Ikon Pass holders, Alterra destinations will temporarily regulate the number of daily lift tickets. Lift tickets will be available by advance purchase only and walk-up window sales are eliminated. (Psst…that means get your Ikon Pass this fall so you can secure your spot on the mountain!) Busy weekends and holidays may have no availability outside of Ikon Pass holders and few other ticketing packages and season passes at some locations and times. Access at Ikon Pass destinations will vary. For more details, visit Ikon Pass.
The good news is that Ikon Pass holders do not need to make an advance reservation for Alterra properties for 2020-2021! But there are just 15 Alterra mountains and many other destinations on the Ikon Pass. Some of those other properties do require advance reservations, even for Ikon Pass holders.
The following mountains on the Ikon Pass (but outside of Alterra) require all skiers and riders to make an advance reservation before visiting:
- Arapahoe Basin, CO
- Aspen Mountain, CO
- Aspen Highlands, CO
- Snowmass, CO
- Buttermilk, CO
- Brighton, UT
- Big Sky Resort, MT
- Crystal Mountain, WA
- Jackson Hole, WY
- Lake Louise, AB
- Loon Mountain, NH
- Taos Ski Valley, NM
- The Summit at Snoqualmie, WA
- Windham Mountain, NY
- Winter Park, CO
This list is subject to change, so double check each resort you plan to visit well in advance. While Ikon Passholders must make a reservation, other seasonal passholders may not. For example, Aspen Snowmass passholders are not required to make a reservation but Ikon Passholders are.
You’ll need to do your part to avoid virus transmission. Stay at least 6 feet away from others, wash hands frequently, wear a face covering, stay home if you do not feel well and follow resort posted signs and policies. We all have a responsibility this ski season to limit the spread of COVID-19 through our behavior. We do appreciate the signage at some resorts to remind guests of the mask policy. "Face mask over nose or Aspen will close" has a nice ring to it. It certainly has us reaching up to double check our face coverings.
What to expect at the Alterra Mountain Company Destinations in 2020-2021
Let’s take a general look at what to expect at the Alterra Resorts during the 2020-2021 ski season. Ultimately, they are asking guests to partner with them to stay safe so they can stay open.
Wearing a face covering while skiing should be 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 indoors and outdoors when you cannot maintain 6 feet of distance from other parties.
You may need a different kind of face covering than you are used to when you ski though. Be sure to find out the resort's specific mask policy before you arrive so you can prepare. For example, the California resorts may have stricter guidelines than other resorts. At Mammoth, perforated and ventilated or single-layer neck gaiter style face coverings are not allowed. At Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, wear a mask with at least two layers. If you want to wear a neck gaiter for warmth, the resort suggests folding it to make two layers. So you may encounter slight differences depending on the resort. Follow the rules or risk losing a lift ticket or pass.
Hop tip: Make sure to choose a facial covering 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.
Everyone ages 3 and up should wear facial coverings while loading and riding on chairlifts and definitely in gondolas. Wear masks inside all buildings, on shuttles and during all ski and snowboard lessons. 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.
Ski goggles protect your eyes and face from the sun and elements, but they add an extra layer of protection from COVID-19. So keep those eyes covered with goggles or at least sunglasses.
Physical Distancing Measures
The ski resorts are taking several measures to allow for physical distancing to ensure a safe experience during the Alterra Mountain Company 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 by limiting lift ticket sales.
Gondolas and Chair Lifts - Guests will self-group to ride with their party in gondolas and on chair lifts. Guests and employees must wear face covering while riding in gondolas. Gondolas are being cleaned periodically throughout the day and at the end of the day with an Electrostatic Disinfectant sprayer. Gondola windows and air vents must remain open to promote air circulation.
Lift Lines - You may notice extended maze designs and more lateral spacing to appropriately space guests waiting in lines. Look for markers and signage to help space guests out in lift lines, especially in gondola lines. For gondolas, funitels and trams, you generally carry your skis and snowboard, so you lose that "ski space" that separates you in standard lift lines. Being that skis are about 6 feet long in many cases, people are naturally spaced about 6 feet from the people in front and back of them in traditional lift lines.
You may still encounter a singles line. You may end up sharing a large lift with one or two other people, so keep your mask on.
Restaurants and Other Indoor Spaces - The lodges are managing the number of people coming in and out of restaurants. Each restaurant and location may use a different approach that is tailored to its layout and flow. Some mountains may add tents to add seating capacity. Some table-service locations may require reservations for lunch (check Open Table). The grab-and-go, food courts, and quick-serve locations may offer a contactless system. Bring other forms of payment besides cash because the restaurants and shops may only accept credit and debit for contactless payment. Expect that some restaurants and dining options will be unavailable this year. Others will have distanced tables and heaters.
Try to eat outside of popular meal times to avoid the crowds. Bad weather days that make outdoor dining unavailable will definitely create more demand for indoor seating, so choose your breaks wisely those days.
In the interest of safety and reducing contact points, you might want to bring your own 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 can do it to reduce contact. This is also a good year to get lodging with your own kitchen. That way you can cook more meals in and avoid restaurants when off the mountain. You may end up saving money too, which is a nice bonus.
Bars - For those of you who like to hit the bars après ski, this looks like the year to discover some new après activities. We have a few family-friendly suggestions in our post on tips for après ski with kids. On-mountain full-service bars are not likely to reopen per local guidelines, as bars are not considered safe activities when you want to contain the spread of COVID-19. For those that are open, you'll see spaced-out tables and outdoor fire pits.
Enhanced Cleaning - As we’ve seen with theme parks and restaurants, ski resorts have implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfecting. The gondola cabins are disinfected daily. Employees are frequently cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces (such as railings).
Ski School Protocols - Expect fewer ski school options and smaller class sizes this year. Full-day group lessons may not be available at your resort. Lesson sizes are limited and lessons for toddlers and preschoolers will be even further limited. All participants are expected to do a pre-screen for COVID-19 symptoms prior to arriving at the mountain. Instructors also undergo daily health screening. Reduce exposure to others by taking a family lesson together.
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.
If you are bringing non-skiing little ones, bring grandma or a babysitter. The resorts are not offering childcare for guests this winter season.
Employee Safety - Employees undergo health screenings before starting their shift and stay home if sick. Employees wear facial coverings when within 6 feet of another person, and in some cases eye protection and gloves too. They use hand sanitizer and frequently wash hands throughout the work day.
Equipment Rentals - The mountain equipment rental locations are open this winter. Of course, they are managing the number of people allowed inside with reservations and physical distancing measures. Each mountain’s procedures and rules may vary according to local regulations. Be sure to reserve equipment in advance with a specific fitting time, because your location may not accept walk-ins. Look for delivery services to avoid the shop.
Lodging - As you can expect, the ski hotels 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. The ski hotels 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 (unless you have a package that includes your lift tickets). You have to have a lift ticket or a pass purchased in advance 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 saving money when flying to Colorado, Utah or Lake Tahoe.
Hot tubs and fitness centers may be closed. Ask about pools being open before you arrive so you know what to expect. Wear mask indoors at lodges. Masks are encouraged outdoors.
Shuttles - Shuttles will run at reduced capacity. Budget extra time when parking or planning to use shuttles for transportation.
Non-skiers - If you are bringing non-skiing family members find other things for them to do. How about any of these ideas for winter family fun beyond the ski slope. Find out in advance what family fun beyond the ski slopes is open and available. You may need to make advance reservations for some activities.
Hopfully, we’ve answered any questions about what to expect during the Ikon Pass destinations and Alterra Mountain Company for ski season during COVID-19. If you need to purchase the Ikon Pass, ski hotel or car rental, you can get a hoppin’ deal with your little green friends. Keep hopping back for updates as the season progresses. And be sure to look for hoppin' deal on the Ikon Pass next spring, summer and fall when the pass goes back on sale.