COVID-19 Impact On Ski Resorts: Everything You Need to Know

November 20, 2020 | By

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was March 14th, AKA the day that skiing died…

In mid-March of 2020, ski season came to a screeching halt at resorts across the United States. The COVID-19 impact on ski resorts (and our lives as we once knew them) came to a sudden reality across the country. Who knew that 8 months later, we would still be in a state of such uncertainty. As we prepare for the 2020/21 ski season, the COVID-19 impact on ski resorts has not gone away. 

On March 14th, 2020, I was in Steamboat at the tail end of an epic two-week ski trip to Colorado. I started in Aspen, stopped at Copper and A-Basin along the way, and ended in Steamboat. I had friends meeting me in Steamboat. Literally, while they were on their flight from Boston, the governor of Colorado announced that all ski resorts in the state would be closed. Immediately and indefinitely. My friends landed in Denver to a text from me with a link to the announcement. What a welcome to what was supposed to be an amazing family ski trip to Steamboat for them!

Fast forward 8 months. The world is still fighting this virus. The COVID-19 impact on ski resorts will make this ski season different from any we’ve experienced before. While each mountain is handling the details a little differently, you can expect to see things like:

  • Advanced reservations required for lift tickets
  • Priority access for season pass holders (including IKON Pass and Epic Pass)
  • Limited daily lift tickets for advanced purchase
  • No walk-up window lift ticket sales
  • Advanced parking reservations are required.

Limiting numbers on the mountain

The biggest news related to the 2020/21 ski season for the US and Canada is limiting the daily number of skiers and snowboarders on the mountain. 

Epic Pass has implemented a reservation system at all 34 of their North American resorts. This is huge news because limiting daily numbers on the mountain is unheard of in North America anywhere besides, say, Deer Valley. Based on the Epic Pass reservation model, it gives pass holders priority when making lift ticket reservations. For example:

  • In the “early season” (resort opening through December 7th), pass holders will be the ONLY guests allowed on the mountain, and lift tickets will not be for sale to the general public at all.
  • Pass holders will have exclusive access to make reservations for the “core season” (December 8th through April 4th) from November 6th through December 7th. They will be able to reserve up to 7 days during the “core season.” Since, at this point, we are beyond November 7th, pass holders have already frantically started reserving their priority days!

IKON Pass took a slightly different approach. While their resorts will be taking measures to limit daily numbers on the mountain, not all IKON Pass destinations will be requiring advanced reservations. Like Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Loon, and Aspen, some have already announced they will require reservations for IKON Pass holders. Others, like Snowbird, Squaw Valley, Steamboat, and Sugarbush, have announced that reservations will not be required for IKON Pass holders at this time. 

This is a dynamic situation and could change at any moment, so skiers and snowboarders are encouraged to check each mountain’s policies regularly.

Besides lift ticket reservations, other measures being taken at certain mountains include:

  • Prioritizing access for season pass holders (including IKON Pass and Epic Pass, depending on the mountain)
  • Limiting the number of daily lift tickets that will be available for advanced purchase for non-pass holders
  • Eliminating walk-up window sales
  • Requiring advanced parking reservations

What does all of this mean? Well, first of all, purchasing an IKON Pass or Epic Pass will give you a leg up on the general public. Life will be more convenient for you. Second of all, plan! Limiting numbers has had an interesting effect on accommodations. Demand for standalone private homes or residential townhomes, or condo-style accommodations is way up this year. You can imagine what that does to the supply, especially for peak dates! 

So, again, BOOK EARLY! If you are thinking about a Festive ski trip or something around MLK or Presidents weekend, book even earlier! For Festive, there is still limited availability, but it decreases as each day goes by.

Luckily, we have access to the best mountain homes, many of which are not easily accessible by the general public. So, if you need help finding the right accommodation for your ski trip this year, don’t hesitate to contact us!

COVID-19 impact on ski resorts

In addition to limiting numbers on the mountain, we will see many other changes throughout our typical ski vacation experience. Each mountain is handling things their own way, but in general, we can expect:

Physically distanced lift lines – This will help keep people spaced out. Groups traveling together will be able to stand as a group. Known groups will be physically distanced from the unknown groups ahead, behind, and to the side of them. 

Chair lift grouping – Resorts will encourage riding the chair lift or gondola only with people in your immediate group. For singles, they will be given the option of riding with another single or riding alone. There will never be less than one open space between unknown parties and, in most cases, at least two open spaces.

Limiting lodge crowds – Skiers and riders will be encouraged to keep all of their belongings on them and “gear up” at the car or in their lodging accommodation. The resorts are going to be limiting numbers in the lodge for food and restroom usage. By asking people to gear up at the car, they will eliminate the normal bustle of people inside the lodge getting changed throughout the day. This will help significantly!

New dining options – In terms of meals, many resorts will be implementing more “grab and go” style dining options to speed things up and reduce direct contact with others. Some resorts will also be making efforts to offer increased dining options outdoors.

Again, in terms of the COVID-19 impact on ski resorts, each destination is handling things differently. This makes it difficult to cover all bases for all resorts. But, I was lucky enough to be a part of an interview with the CEO of Aspen Ski Company, Mike Kaplan. He shed some light on the measures a world-class ski destination like Aspen is taking to keep their guests and staff safe this ski season.

For more detail on this, see my article on how Aspen Snow mass plans on rolling out their new COVID safety protocols and procedures. 

Season pass protection

With a global pandemic comes uncertainty. With uncertainty comes a hesitation in booking anything in advance. To help provide skiers and boarders peace of mind, both IKON Pass and Epic Pass have rolled out protection plans:

  • “Epic Coverage” provides refunds associated with illness, job loss, injury, and certain resort closures, such as any due to COVID-19. It also protects pass holders’ Priority Reservation Days on the mountain this season.
  • IKON Pass is offering “Adventure Assurance” to provide its pass holders peace of mind:
    • For any reason, if you don’t use your 2020/21 IKON Pass, you will have the option to defer the purchase price paid for your 2020/21 IKON Pass toward the purchase of a 2021/22 IKON Pass using the new Zero-Day Credit. No questions asked. You can now make this decision between September 10, 2020, and April 11, 2021.
    • Should any eligible IKON Pass destination close due to COVID-19 between December 10, 2020, and April 11, 2021, IKON Pass holders will receive a proportional credit towards any 2021/22 IKON Pass.

What are people looking for?

The truth is, the COVID-19 impact on ski resorts is not keeping everyone from wanting to ski this season. Because of the increased safety measures, mountains are taking, and because of the simple fact that skiing is an outdoor activity, many people are willing to take the calculated risk.

For those intent on skiing this season, the trend is longer-term residence style accommodations. So, rather than staying in traditional hotel rooms, skiers and snowboarders seek homes, condos, and luxury ski hotels that have residence style accommodations. This gives travelers their own private space and avoids unnecessary interaction with other people. They are also doing extended stays, multiple weeks at a time. Remote flexibility with work and school creates a rare opportunity that many people are taking advantage of. Who doesn’t want to get their work or study groove on with the Rocky Mountains in the background?!

Even more, many people are willing to pay up for ski-on / ski-off accommodations. Whether it’s a private home, a townhouse, a condo, or a luxury ski hotel, ski-on / ski-off is a great option. Going this route provides a home base for things like midday lunch, warm-up breaks, or even a private (nonpublic) bathroom to use. This way, you completely avoid any public indoor spaces! You don’t even have to step foot inside a lodge.

Luckily, there are so many great options in North America for residence style accommodations. They come in private mountain homes, townhouses, condos, and even luxury ski hotels. There are several great property management companies with collections of vetted private residences in many ski destinations around the country. This ensures guests a quality stay with the proper cleaning protocols in place between guest stays. This is in comparison, say, to a privately owned home managed by an individual person. This person may only be implementing health and safety procedures based on how they interpret them.

If you’re looking for a private residence style accommodation for your ski trip this season, don’t hesitate to reach out.

We partner only with the best luxury ski properties and the most trusted mountain home property management companies. This guarantees a high level of service and the best experience for our clients. Plus, many of the private residence style properties we work with are not easily accessible by the general public!

Local COVID travel restrictions

We know by now that the COVID-19 impact on ski resorts will force us to plan earlier and more strategically than ever before. But what about the state-by-state COVID travel restrictions in the US? 

This is an important one and can be quite difficult to stay on top of. Things change daily, and with COVID numbers going up, restrictions are only tightening. If we think about the regions people travel to when planning a ski trip, we’re talking about the Rockies, California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Northeast. 

In terms of COVID travel restrictions, states in the northeast like Vermont and Maine have stringent cross-state guidelines for visitors. For example, anyone traveling to Vermont from out of state must quarantine for 14 days either before traveling or once arriving in the state. Or you can take a COVID test and quarantine for 7 days. This is as of the time of this article.

When you arrive at most hotels, you will be asked to fill out a health certification. Travelers might wonder how the hotels can actually regulate this or check that a guest has actually fulfilled this requirement. To a certain degree, it’s the honor system. There’s no way for them to check. But if we are going to get through this pandemic, it’s best to follow the rules!

And at the same time, if you’re not staying at a hotel, how are the ski mountains going to regulate this? Are they going to regulate it or turn a blind eye and trust that most people follow the cross-state travel guidelines?

I am personally interested in how it all plays out because I live in Boston and find myself skiing in Vermont and Maine most weekends!

So, now what?

The moral of the story is that this ski season will be much different from any other we’ve ever experienced. If you plan on skiing this season, you have to plan ahead and pay attention! Not only for your own safety but the safety of others. With requirements changing seemingly daily, it can be a lot to keep track of. 

But guess what?! That’s what we (Journey Bound Travel Co.) are here for. We are staying closely in tune with the COVID-19 impact on ski resorts. Part of that is understanding the varying cross-state travel restrictions. Another big part of it is understanding the varying lift ticket policies at each mountain and ensuring our clients are fully prepared to go on the trip. That way, they go into it with the right expectations. Plus, they get out of it exactly what they were looking for and more.

Nobody wants to spend a bunch of time and money on a mediocre ski trip. You work hard; you deserve the best (especially during a global pandemic)! You shouldn’t have to worry whether your ski vacation will be incredible, seamless, and tailored to your needs. We care about your precious time off, and you should feel fulfilled, relaxed, and happy that you made the most of it.