Buckle Up, Bundle Up And Buck It Up.

NSAA recommended signage for this season. Credit: NSAA

Never before has there been as much trepidation about a ski season as for this one.  Given all the tumult that occurred during this year, it’s no surprise we’re anxious.  What follows are some insights that will help us get the most out of what will be a most unique season.

Above all, we need to go into this season with realistic expectations.  Things are not going to be the same as ski resorts strive to provide us the best possible experience in the midst of the pandemic.  Be prepared for limits on the number of skiers allowed at resorts each day and in many instances we’ll have to reserve these days in advance online.  The result is that we will likely not get to ski each and every day that we would want to, and we will likely not get to ski as many total days as we’d like. 

As resorts work to ensure social distancing across all phases of our visits, we can expect changes to how day tickets are purchased, how food and beverages are purchased and where they are consumed.  There will be changes to how lift lines are organized, rules about who can ride lifts together and how many people unfamiliar with one another can ride together.  Because resorts will be limiting the number of people allowed in lodges, we need to be prepared to boot up, warm up, and eat in our cars.

It will behoove each and every one of us to be as self-reliant as possible.

There are a number of stakeholders in skiing, and it helps to understand that we all share the same goal: to make skiing as fun as possible for as many people as possible and to keep everyone safe. We are all in this together and the 2020 ski season will be th ebest possible if we recognize our interdependence. If people choose not to follow the rules, it could lead to further restrictions.

In addition to the demanding tasks involved in reopening each year, resort operators are facing a daunting array of challenges including redesigning how services are delivered, complying with federal, state and local mandates, financial challenges, acquiring an adequate work force and doing all this amidst tremendous uncertainty.

As a result, resorts are not going to get everything righ,t and we should expect things will not always run smoothly. In essence, we need to be understanding and patient.

Because the impact of the pandemic is so fluid, resorts will likely change policies throughout the season. So, know before you go. Staying up to date on information regarding a resort’s policies will help us avoid unwanted events.

Now the lemonade: The thing we love most about ski trips is the actual skiing, and this season time on the slopes will be just as much fun as ever. Additionally, we may come to like some of the changes.  Strategies for more “low-touch” interaction with guests may lead to smoother and more efficient ticket sales, use of passes and quicker access to food and beverages. Resorts are considering some very creative options for dining such as food trucks, other satellite food stations and take-out.

So, buckle up, bundle up and buck it up.


  1. Hey Don,
    We must be about the same age! I also started skiing as a kid in early ’60s. Teaching at Stratton.
    I liked your piece for overall attitude and point of view. I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple months reading, learning and deciphering how this ski season will unfold.
    Unfortunately, all the ski lift changes are the easy stuff for resorts. The tough things are the unknowns, for example, how in VT the restrictions on inter-state car travel will apply to all skier-guest-home-counties, as of Tuesday morning preceding the upcoming weekend, based on the counties’ Covid infection rate reported by JHU on Tuesday compared with infection rates in VT county where you’re skiing. If your home county infection rate > VT infection rate…sorry, you can’t come and ski same day…you gotta quarantine 14 days. That’s a killer for ski guests, and a killer for ski areas in VT. We can only hope the infection rates start drifting down by mid-December.
    “Reservations” to ski may be facilitated for a family with kids by buying one or more ski lessons…resorts like the incremental revenue and won’t want to turn away $$.
    I wrote on Quora earlier today that I’m not “dialing down” my ski plans for this season…I’m ramping them up! Why? I suspect many skiers will take a pass on this season because of Covid and travel uncertainties. So the hills will be less crowded for us fanatics. And, I’m expecting a banner snow season, we’re due for a great weather season.
    Follow me on Twitter @JohnnyGSki

  2. John – thinking the same thing as I live in NH, but ski in Maine , Mass. and VT as well. I don’t expect ski areas to keep track of each state’s COVID count and who can ski where, but providing a link to the correct state website would be helpful. It’s our responsibility as skiers to know the rules of the game. I guess it’s another item in the Skier’s Responsibility Code.

  3. Living in NM I have for the 1st time decided not to purchase an Epic Military Pass this year. I see no real problem with the skiing part it’s the other 16 hours of the day that I don’t feel safe with. Plus the whole reserve thingy is too difficult to figure out. Right now I am thinking of not skiing at any of the NM mountains. There are just too many people who don’t care about anyone else but themselves that make it not worth the risk. Some time in January I will look and see how things are doing.

  4. Unfortunately, I have been forced to “dial down” my plans for the upcoming season. Mainly because of the restrictions in the number of skiers, the reservation process, and the fact that some ski areas will simply not sell any day tickets at all but will rely mainly on season passes.

    I was hoping to drive to New Mexico and ski all the 9 ski areas there. It’s a long road trip and I don’t want to attempt it if I can’t be assured that I will be able to purchase a day lift ticket at each of the 9 ski areas.

    When the Timberline ski area on Mt. Hood in Oregon imposed a reservation system at the tail end of last season, reservations had to be made online 24 hours in advance. All the available reservations were sold out within a couple of minutes! Under such conditions, if a reservation is required, there is no guarantee that I will be able to get a lift ticket at all.

    Some ski areas, such as Stevens Pass in Washington State, which is now part of Vail Resorts, will require everyone to have a reservation. Even season pass holders will need to reserve each specific day they want to ski. Season Pass holders will get a slight advantage over others by being able to reserve up to 7 days of the whole season right now, before the season begins. But having to decide right now which days to reserve means that we won’t be able to have any advantage at all to get a spot on a powder day, because powder days are unpredictable.

    Fortunately, many ski areas will not be quite so restrictive and will give season pass holders priority on any day. At some ski areas, season pass holders will not have to make reservations at all.

    So, season pass holders do have some advantages, and for that reason alone, I will most likely stay put at my local ski area, even though I normally like to travel to other ski areas as well.

    But that still leaves the issue of day tickets unresolved. And my road trip to New Mexico will have to be put off until lift tickets will be able to be purchased more reliably on any day we wish.

  5. Terri Burton-Wire says:

    We bought our usual Epic Pass this year, and hoping to use it more than last year. We will probably stick to the Colorado resorts this season, since we can make it in 1 (long) day of travel from Iowa. We feel it will be safer than spending single nights in hotels. We also rented a condo with outside access (no hallways). They are also leaving the condo empty for at least 2 nights between renters. Since we are retired, we worked it out with the owner and rented midweek to midweek. We never ski weekends, so hoping we don’t have any trouble getting our ski days reserved.

  6. I am VERY jealous! You have it planned very well.

  7. Don,
    Happy to see you healthy and planning for the upcoming season. I hope this 2nd/3rd wave passes and the lodge gets open and Vt. Allows us to visit. I plan on getting the vaccine as soon as I know 1 million doses have been given, without problems. I wonder if the “vaccinated” lines will help things out?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *