This year’s ski season has been both rewarding and challenging. Rewarding because capacity limits at most American ski resorts have made the mountains less crowded than usual. Challenging because policy changes have made things confusing for some. Here’s how ski resorts are handling the pandemic.
Advance Lift Ticket Sales
Perhaps the most confusing policy change has been the requirement that skiers buy their lift tickets in advance. Advance sales eliminate long lines at walkup windows but can come as an unpleasant surprise to anyone driving a long distance only to find they are unable to buy lift tickets on arrival.
The problem can be compounded by capacity limits on the mountain that limit the number of skiers. A worst case scenario would be finding you can’t buy your tickets at the mountain, going online to buy them, and then finding the mountain is at capacity and no more tickets are available.
There are other problems too. Earlier this year, Vail’s reservation system for Epic Pass holders became overwhelmed by skiers trying to book lift tickets online. Vail Resorts chief executive Rob Katz had to issue a public apology to the many disgruntled skiers who were complaining.
Social Distancing Requirements
Those who do make it to the resort with ticket in hand may find other challenges. To avoid overcrowding in locker rooms, some ski resorts are requiring skiers to put on their gear in the parking lot. Ski boots are not made for walking in, and a long walk from the parking lot after struggling to put your boots on while sitting on your tailgate may be tiring, not to say aggravating.
At the lifts social distancing and mask wearing are basic requirements, but how strictly they are enforced varies from resort to resort.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is located in Teton County, Wyoming, one of the most conservative counties in the country. After lax enforcement of mask wearing during the summer months contributed to a spike in COVID cases that threatened to overwhelm the area’s single small hospital, the resort imposed a capacity limit for the ski season and amped up its COVID-19 protocols. Nevertheless, after a heavy snowfall in mid-December, skiers crowded the lifts and clustered together, many without masks. Three weeks later the area had the highest virus caseload per capita of any county in Wyoming.
Other places are not so cavalier, and some are going the extra mile to make sure everyone is safe. At Winter Park in Colorado they’ve set up lift corrals with ghost lanes between skier lanes and painted markers in the snow to show six foot intervals. At Vail they have a policy of leaving one seat open between unrelated parties on chairlifts. Most resorts allow families and related parties to sit together on lifts but discourage sitting with strangers. This can make for long lines during peak times, which is why some resorts have experimented with a system for sending alerts to cell phones to tell skiers when it’s time to show up at the lifts.
How Ski Resorts are Handling the Pandemic
In any case, because of capacity limits, once skiers are on the mountain, things get a lot easier. Skiing is a low risk activity when it comes to the Corona virus. Skiers often cover their mouths and noses anyway to protect against the cold, and capacity limits on mountains make for ample social distancing. The highest risk occurs when skiers move indoors to dine. For that reason, many resorts have closed indoor dining and offer only take out. Others have limited capacity to promote social distancing.
Taken altogether, this ski season, like everything else this year, is a little challenging. But the mountains are open, and the experience can be quite rewarding after all, if you follow a few simple rules.
Isakowitz, Lucas. “What America’s Richest Ski Town’s Handling of COVID-19 Says About the Country.” Time, 1 February 2021, website
Lastoe, Stacey. “How Coronavirus Will Change Skiing this Season.” CNN Travel, 3 November 2020, website
Meyer, John. “Skiing During a Pandemic: Is this the Worst Year of Skiing – or the Best?” Denver Post, 4 January 2021, website
Thomas, Amy. “What to Know Before Taking a Ski Trip During COVID-19.” Travel&Leisure, 23 November 2020, website
Skier looking out, William Ling