Everything new you need to know about this year's ski season, from new resorts to reservation rules
When the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the nation at the end of the 2019/2020 ski season, normal life came to an abrupt halt and many ski resorts closed early.
The following ski season was one of trial and error, with ski areas grappling over how to navigate social distancing restrictions while maintaining a successful and profitable year. Some ski areas required advance reservations, while others simply mandated that guests wear masks while indoors and in lift lines. Others required masks at all times, including on the ski trails.
Now, with snow already starting to fall in some mountainous regions of the U.S. and one full COVID-19 ski season under their belts, many resort operators are a bit more optimistic about what’s to come this ski season.
Here's what you need to know about new protocols, season-pass pricing, new or refreshed hotels and flight schedule changes to get your ski season off to the best start.
Note: Some resorts have not yet announced their COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming season, and those that have could change them due to the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Skiing’s partial return to normal
While skiing won’t be back to normal from a pre-pandemic perspective, this year should look a lot closer to a normal season than the last one. With social distancing a natural part of the sport and pandemic-prompted reservation systems a thing of the past, protocols generally will be focused on the indoor portion of ski vacations.
No reservations required at most resorts
This season, Vail Resorts, among others, will no longer be implementing a reservation system as it did last season and will be operating its lifts and gondolas at normal capacity. There are exceptions to this rule, though. Alta, for example, will be requiring parking reservations on weekends and holidays. Remember that COVID-19 protocols this season could be updated as the pandemic continues to evolve, so make sure to check in ahead of time, as well as close to your stay, with each specific resort you intend to visit.
Face coverings will be required indoors at all Vail resorts and most resorts industry-wide. This includes wearing masks in restaurants, bathrooms, rental shops, buses and pretty much anywhere but the lifts, lift lines and slopes. While some resorts, such as Alta, may still require masks in outdoor spaces, many have dropped this policy for the upcoming ski season. If possible, visit during weekdays and non-holidays to avoid crowds.
All Vail resorts will implement cashless transactions at resorts, including at restaurants, hotels, rental shops and any other point of sale. 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.
Dining will look similar to last season, although indoor seating capacity will largely be expanded. Vail Resorts will be requiring advance reservations for indoor dining at many of their on-mountain restaurants, and will also require guests 12 and older to show proof of vaccination to secure a spot.
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. That means the ski lodge won’t be a great place to hang out for the long haul this season.
Related: Best annual ski pass: Battle between Epic, Ikon, Mountain Collective and Indy
Passes and ticketing
If you don’t plan on visiting an under-the-radar ski area or buying a season pass, purchasing lift tickets online is typically the cheapest way to hit the slopes and avoid crowded ticket lines at the resort.
All Epic Pass prices have been reduced by 20% for the 2021 to 2022 season, but the prices will go up on Oct. 14. For those who plan on visiting any Vail-owned resorts this season, there are a number of Epic Pass options, including the new Epic Day Pass, which allows skiers to choose from one to seven flexible days at their resorts for a discounted price (the more days you choose, the bigger the discount).
If you’re OK with skipping holidays and heading to the resorts on quieter weekdays and weekends (the preferable option when possible), consider the Epic Local Pass which, at $599, offers unlimited access to many of the resorts, but has blackout dates for a few of the more popular properties (Park City, Stowe, Whistler, Heavenly, Northstar, Beaver Creek and Vail). The pass is only good for 10 days at Beaver Creek, Whistler and Vail.
This year, Ikon pass holders can put the purchase price of their pass toward a 2022 to 2023 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.
The Ikon pass, which is good at 47 resorts – including Mammoth, Palisades Tahoe (which was formerly known as Squaw), Aspen Snowmass, Steamboat, Jackson Hole and Killington – cost $1,049 before Oct. 15, at which point the price increased by $100.
Like the Epic Local, the Ikon Base Pass is another slightly limited pass option at a lower rate of $779, perfect for skiers who don’t mind some blackout dates. Ikon will offer credits if one or more eligible resorts close for COVID-19-reasons this year, based on the percentage of days closed. Passholders 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 implement similar assurance programs.
Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain is the latest addition to the Ikon family for the 2021 to 2022 season.
Mountain Collective Pass
The Mountain Collective Pass, at $589 for adults and teens 13 and older, allows for two days of skiing or riding at each of its 23 destinations worldwide. Passholders will receive half-price lift tickets for any additional days at a specific resort. Last year, the pass added Chamonix, Grand Targhee, Panorama, Sugarloaf and Sun Peaks ski resorts.
The Indy Pass is a great choice for travelers looking to avoid crowds by sticking to smaller, independently owned resorts this year. If passholders purchase it before Nov. 30, they can ski or ride two days at each of 57 resorts throughout North America for $299, although certain holiday blackout dates may apply at some resorts. For an extra $100, skiers can get the Indy+ Pass, which has no blackout dates. Eight new resorts have joined for the 2021 to 2022 season, including four in northern Japan: the mecca for powder skiing.
Related: Unvaccinated? Think twice before booking trips to these 5 US cities
New hotels, restaurants and amenities
Cloudveil is open in Jackson
Last May, the Cloudveil, a Marriott Autograph Collection property, opened in the heart of Jackson, Wyoming, in the historic town square.
Just minutes from the Jackson Hole Ski Resort, the luxury hotel features 100 guest rooms and suites, a restaurant and bar, a rooftop terrace that boasts views of Snow King Mountain and the surrounding town of Jackson, an outdoor pool and a fitness area. The interior was clearly designed to mesh seamlessly with Jackson’s mountain-town vibe, making it a great lodging addition to the town.
The Hythe comes to Vail
The Hythe is set to open in Lionshead Village at the base of Vail for the 2021 to 2022 ski season. The hotel has undergone $40 million in renovations and is joining Marriott’s Luxury Collection. It features four new food and beverage options, new mountain-focused excursions, 344 rooms, 22 suites and 16 luxury residences. Its location at the base of the mountain among the village’s shop-lined cobblestone streets makes it an unrivaled base for a Vail ski vacation.
Related: A Marriott in Vail will soon be reborn as a slopeside Luxury Collection hotel
Big Sky gets its first luxury hotel
Montage Big Sky is preparing to open its doors on Dec. 15, 2021, in Big Sky, Montana, in time for this year's ski season. Considered the mountain town's first luxury resort, guests will have ski-in and ski-out access to Big Sky Mountain Resort's more than 5,800 acres of terrain. The 150-room resort will also feature an indoor lap pool, a Powder Park with snow tubing and snow biking and a 10,000-square-foot spa.
Limelight Hotel Aspen refreshed for the season
After a six-month renovation, the Limelight Hotel, located in the heart of Aspen, will again be welcoming guests in time for the upcoming ski season. Renovations include updates to the Limelight Lounge, lobby, bar and all 126 rooms and suites. Thanks to the hotel’s free in-town transportation, it’s a convenient home-base for those skiing at the area’s resorts.
Vail Announces $320 million in future upgrades across 14 resorts
Upgrades this year to the Vail portfolio include 250 new acres of beginner and intermediate terrain at Beaver Creek, and new or upgraded lifts at Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Keystone and Okemo.
For the 2022 to 2023 ski season, there will be even more to look forward to, as Vail plans on investing $320 million in upgrades to 14 of its resorts nationwide. The budget includes the addition of 19 new lifts to increase uphill capacity and lift-access terrain. Resorts that will see improvements include Whistler, Breckenridge, Park City, Stowe, Okemo, Mount Snow and Vail, to name a few.
Sun Valley adds 380 acres of skiable terrain
While it did debut last February, this upcoming ski season will be the first full season where skiers can head to Sun Valley, Idaho’s Sunrise zone. The 380-acre expansion is a nice addition with open bowl skiing, tree skiing and steep chutes. It is the first of its kind on Bald Mountain in over 20 years, expanding the mountain’s lift-access terrain by over 20%.
Snowbasin announces major lift, terrain, hotel, parking and village expansion
New for the 2021 to 2022 season, Snowbasin’s Middle Bowl Triple will be replaced with a high-speed, six-person lift, significantly expanding uphill capacity. There are a number of new lift upgrades and additions planned in the coming years to further increase how many guests the mountain can handle.
The resort will also be expanding beginner terrain near the resort base area, so those looking to learn to ski won’t be stuck playing frogger instead of focusing on their turns. A future Village expansion has been announced, which includes the addition of shops, restaurants and amenities, which will commence in 2025. A 300-room all-inclusive hotel by Club Med is slated to open in December of 2024.
New service to Steamboat Ski Area
For the first time in history, Steamboat will be accessible from 16 airports with flights operated by six airlines. This includes the return of service from Atlanta (ATL) and Minneapolis (MSP) on Delta and Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) on Southwest. With service on JetBlue, Alaska, American, Delta, United and Southwest Airlines, Steamboat is arguably one of the most accessible resorts in the state.
Delta and United head to the mountains
Between December 2021 and March 2022, United will be expanding service to Aspen (ASE), Bozeman (BZN), Gunnison-Crested Butte (GUC), Hayden-Steamboat Springs (HDN), Jackson (JAC), Kalispell (FCA), Sun Valley (SUN) and Vail/Eagle (EGE). These expanded services come in the form of increased flight frequencies or larger aircraft. Delta will also be expanding service to Aspen (ASE), Bozeman (BZN), Jackson Hole (JAC), Steamboat Springs (HDN) and Sun Valley (SUN) in the form of increased flight frequencies.