What’s new for this year’s ski season

Nov 3, 2020

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When the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the nation last March, life came to an abrupt halt and even ski resorts were forced to close early.

Vail announced on March 17 the closure of its 34 North American resorts and other ski properties that hadn’t already shuttered soon followed.

Some skiers were left wondering if the resorts would reopen in time for their spring ski trips, while others were already worried about the possibility of the cancellation of next season.

“I think a lot of people are worried about the unknown,” said Jamie Storrs, Vail’s senior manager of communications for the Eastern region. “A lot of this is new, but in the end, we’re all going to be skiing and riding again.”

But with snow already starting to fall in many parts of the U.S. and COVID-19 cases simultaneously surging across the country, many people are wondering if there will be anything recognizable about this ski season.

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Skiing isn’t canceled — but it will be different

(Photo by SEASTOCK/Getty Images)
Vail Mountain. (Photo by SEASTOCK/Getty Images)

Luckily, it’s not too difficult to practice social distancing while skiing. But for many, a ski vacation also means dining at restaurants, staying in hotels, taking lessons and, of course, waiting in lift lines.

Reservations required

This season, Vail Resorts, among others, will implement a reservation system in order to keep track of daily traffic at each property. While it’s unlikely people will be turned away on most dates, especially at the larger mountains, you should still make your reservations as early as possible. Peak ski dates and holidays may indeed fill up.

Some resorts, including many of those that belong to the Ikon Pass, won’t necessarily require reservations, but will still manage the number of passes sold to prevent overcrowding on the slopes.

Epic Pass holders will be able to make reservations starting Nov. 6, while non-pass holders can purchase standard lift tickets (which automatically come with a reservation) beginning Dec. 8. Reading between the lines, this means skiers without passes won’t be able to ski or ride prior to Dec. 8, even though some resorts will open as early as Nov. 6.

If you’re looking for early season turns, a good way to get around this is to purchase an Epic Day Pass, which allows you to choose one to seven days of skiing or riding at the resort of your choice.

Mask up

Face coverings will also be required at all Vail resorts, and most resorts industry-wide, while pretty much anywhere but on the trails. Chairlift rides will also largely be limited to those in the same party.

Masks, while commonplace on the slopes, will now be required at all Vail Resorts. (Photo by s.madeleine.2006/Twenty20)

All Vail resorts will implement cashless transactions at their resorts, including at restaurants, hotels, rental shops and any other point of sale. And even resorts that aren’t going cashless will offer the option to at least pay for passes online, limiting the amount of in-person contact necessary once you arrive at the resort.

Après ski

Dining will also look a little different at resorts this season, with many dine-in establishments moving to a cafeteria-style or to-go model. Others will implement socially distant seating, increased outdoor seating options and advance reservations. Some places, such as Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, will take advantage of outdoor space with food carts. Telluride will also introduce the use of empty gondolas as private, sheltered, outdoor dining options.

If you do need to go inside to warm up in the lodge or grab a bite to eat, remember other people are waiting to do the same thing: So, the ski lodge won’t be a great place to hang out for the long haul this season.

Passes and ticketing

If you don’t plan on visiting an under-the-radar ski area or buying a season pass, make sure you purchase lift tickets and make reservations (if required) in advance.

Epic Day Pass

The Epic Day Pass, which is a good choice for skiers who plan to visit a Vail-owned resort for up to seven days throughout the season, starts at $112 for a single day and decreases in price for more days. It also allows early season access and reservations ahead of Dec. 8, when standard day passes will be on sale to the public.

Ikon Pass

This year, Ikon pass holders can put the purchase price of their pass toward a 2021 and 2022 season pass if it isn’t used. This is a huge benefit for people who are waiting to see how the pandemic develops this winter.

Be sure to check out Winter Park with your Ikon Pass. (Photo courtesy of Ikon Pass)

Ikon will also offer credits if one or more eligible resorts close this year, even if only for a single day. Pass holders can also choose one eligible destination to receive credits for in the case of a closure of seven consecutive or 21 total days throughout the season. Most other season passes will implement similar assurance programs.

Mountain Collective Pass

The Mountain Collective Pass, at $589 for kids and adults 13 and older, allows for two days of skiing or riding at each of its 23 destinations worldwide. Pass holders will receive half-price lift tickets for any additional days at a specific resort. This year, the pass will also include Chamonix, Grand Targhee, Panorama, Sugarloaf and Sun Peaks ski resorts.

View from The Westin Snowmass. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Indy Pass

The Indy Pass is a great choice for travelers looking to avoid crowds by sticking to smaller, independently- owned resorts this year. For $199, pass holders can ski or ride two days at each of the 57 resorts throughout North America. Thirteen new resorts have joined for the 2020 and 2021 season, including Jay Peak, which arguably gets the most snow and has some of the best terrain on the East Coast.

Related: Best annual ski pass: Battle between Epic, Ikon and Mountain Collective

New hotels, restaurants and amenities

Element 29 hotel opens at Copper Mountain

It was really only a matter of time before Copper Mountain opened a hotel named Element 29 (get it?). The hotel, which is part of a $100 million investment by Copper and Powdr, features 127 rooms across four stories and has an outdoor patio along West Ten Mile Creek, complete with fire pits and hot tubs. The hotel is slated to open in November.

Aspen Snowmass completes lift and snowmaking upgrades

In addition to replacing Snowmass’s Big Burn quad with a high-speed, six-person chairlift, the mountain has also expanded snowmaking to an additional 28 acres of terrain. And Aspen Mountain has added 28 new energy-efficient snowmaking guns to allow for top-to-bottom snowmaking for the first time this winter.

Park City’s newly renovated Tombstone BBQ will offer indoor dining

With many of the mountain’s other restaurants taking a cafeteria-style approach, Tombstone BBQ — which is on the mountain and underwent a significant transformation ahead of the 2019 to 2020 ski season — will continue to offer indoor dining. Last season, there was also a new lift installed right by the Tombstone, conveniently connecting it to Canyon Village.

RFID pass scanning and two new lifts come to Arapahoe Basin

A-Basin, as it’s commonly known, has replaced the Molly Hagan and Pallavinci lifts for the upcoming ski season. The Pallavinci provides access to some of the mountain’s most popular expert terrain. The mountain has also introduced RFID pass scanning — a perfect addition for the socially distant season ahead.

Breckenridge completes final renovations to LOGE Hotel

Completed during fall 2020, LOGE Breckenridge is rooted in the spirit of outdoor adventure. The hotel is walking distance to Summit County’s free shuttle service and just a few miles of downtown Breck as well as Keystone, Copper and Breckenridge ski resorts. The company, which is focused on transforming forgotten motels in popular outdoor-oriented towns into modern and affordable camps and lodges, puts 1% of their revenue back into the communities.

(Photo courtesy of LOGE Breckenridge/Facebook)

Bluebird Backcountry opens in Colorado

Backcountry skiing is one of the best ways for skilled skiers and riders to make turns while remaining socially distant. At the Bluebird Backcountry ski area, which is the first resort of its kind to open in North America, you won’t find any lifts to whisk you to the top — you’ll have to get there on your own. Guests will ski uphill or “skin” to get to the top of their run. Thirty minutes from Steamboat Springs, the resort offers warming huts, a lodge, gear rentals, ski patrol and 1,200 avalanche-evaluated in-bounds acres. The resort offers a variety of courses and guide services, making it a great option for first-timers looking to get into the sport.

Maine’s Saddleback ski area reopens after five years

In Rangeley, Maine, the Saddleback Mountain ski area will open after a five-year closure. With a tentative opening date of Dec. 15, Saddleback is the third-tallest mountain in the state and has a higher base elevation than any other resort in Maine. Basically, that means more snow. The resort will open with a new summit lift, upgraded snowmaking systems and a major lodge renovation. While it’s off the beaten path, affordable ticket pricing, expansive terrain for all ability levels and its location in a quiet New England town make it a great place to check out during an uncertain season.

Related: Best credit cards for lift tickets and ski vacations

Increased airlift

New service to Steamboat Springs

Southwest will introduce its first-ever seasonal destination landing in the mountain town of Steamboat Springs (HDN) beginning Dec. 19 from both Dallas Love Field (DAL) and Denver (DEN). JetBlue is also adding nonstop service between Steamboat and JFK.

Here’s what to expect if you fly Southwest Airlines this winter.

Southwest, JetBlue and American expand service to Montrose

Service to Montrose Regional (MTJ) ramps up significantly in mid-December, making it easier to get to Colorado’s western resorts — Telluride, Powderhorn and Crested Butte, to name a few.

Southwest will offer service from Denver (DEN) two or three times daily, and from Dallas Love Field (DAL) on weekends through winter. JetBlue will offer direct service from Boston Logan (BOS) on Saturdays and some Wednesdays throughout the season. American will offer flights from Charlotte (CLT) to Montrose on Saturdays.

Salt Lake City opens new concourses

As part of a $4.1 billion expansion, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) opened two new concourses in September and October. Delta Air Lines started operations as the sole tenant of Concourse A in September. Concourse B, which opened on Oct. 27, serves spillover traffic from Concourse A as well as Alaska, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United. Expansion of the airport will continue in the coming years, with the completion of the next phase expected in 2024.

Featured photo by kateryna.m/Twenty20.

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