Vail Resorts changed its mask policy: What to know before you head to the mountains to ski

Dec 29, 2021

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Ski season is in full swing coast-to-coast. While resorts in the Sierra’s are digging out from nearly 10 feet of snow in seven days, resorts on the East Coast are still praying for snow, any snow. But there’s one thing all resorts have in common regardless of base depths: concerns about the uptick in omicron coronavirus cases.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, the ski industry lost an estimated $2 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic. Many ski areas are taking no chances this season and have already implemented requirements for face coverings and vaccinations for indoor dining. And in some cases, vaccination requirements to ski. However, with the uptick in the omicron variant, resorts are adding updated – and new – restrictions. These new restrictions also come at the same time ski resorts are expecting more and more skiers and snowboarders over the peak holiday period that runs through the new year.

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Changes at Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts, which operates 34 ski areas in North America, has had the most stringent requirements among ski area operators. Since the beginning of the ski season in North America, Vail Resorts has required face coverings at all indoor settings and proof of COVID-19 vaccination to dine at indoor, on-mountain quick-service (cafeteria-style) restaurants.

“Vail Resorts believes the vaccine requirement is important for the protection of its guests and employees, given the number of people using these facilities and the fact that guests will not be wearing face coverings while eating and drinking,” Vail Resorts said in a press release in September 2020. “This is currently the only part of the resort experience that will require proof of vaccination, unless required by local public health.”

Screenshot from Vail's website
Vail’s dining vaccination requirement originally implemented in 2020. (Screenshot courtesy of Vail Resorts)

However, until Dec. 29, face coverings had not been required on all of Vail Resorts’ gondolas and one tram in California. That has now changed.

“Due to the recent spike and increased contagiousness of the COVID-19 omicron variant, we are taking additional precautions to help keep our guests, employees and communities safe this season,” said Vail Resort spokeswoman Quinn Kelsey. “Beginning Wednesday, Dec. 29, guests and employees will be required to wear face coverings on gondolas at all of our North American resorts. While gondola rides are short and well-ventilated, our commitment to safety compels us to take further action to combat the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to review our COVID-19 policies and procedures as needed to account for the evolving nature of the pandemic, and thank all of our guests for their continued understanding and cooperation to help keep our mountain environments safe.”

Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, has always required face coverings on their gondolas this season as a result of orders from the local health authority. Of Vail Resorts’ 34 North American resorts, the company operates 21 gondolas and one tram at nine of their properties: Beaver Creek Resort (two gondolas), Breckenridge Ski Resort (one gondola), Heavenly Lake Tahoe (one gondola and one tram), Keystone Ski Resort (two gondolas), Northstar California (two gondolas), Park City Mountain Resort (three gondolas), Stowe Mountain Resort (two gondolas), Vail Ski Resort (two gondolas) and Whistler Blackcomb (six gondolas). These new restrictions do not apply to open air gondolas, also known as ‘chondolas,’ or chair lifts with a bubble that can be manually opened or closed by the occupants.

Board of Health reinstates countywide mask mandate indoors regardless of vaccination status in response to COVID-19 spike – https://t.co/8RrCM3bBUI

— Eagle County Govt (@EagleCounty) December 22, 2021

Eagle County, home to two of Vail Resorts’ largest ski areas, Beaver Creek Resort and Vail Ski Resort, had recently instituted new indoor mask requirements (you can view the standing public health order in a PDF here) on Dec. 22, which may have been the impetus for Vail Resorts’ decision to update their face coverings policy.

According to the order, all individuals two or older, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a face covering while entering or within any “public indoor space.” Eagle County defines public indoor space as, “…any enclosed indoor area that is publicly or privately owned, managed, or operated, to which individuals have access by right or by invitation, expressed or implied; or that is accessible to the public, serves as a place of employment, or is a location where services are provided. Public indoor space includes all enclosed indoor areas except for a person’s residence.”

Summit County, Utah, the home to two popular ski resorts – Park City Mountain Resort and Alterra Mountain Company’s Deer Valley Resort – recently issued the following statement:

“Over the Christmas holiday, Summit County’s COVID-19 cases reached record highs on three different days. The Summit County Health Department encourages residents to take basic precautions to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19, especially during the week leading to the New Year holiday. Residents and visitors are strongly advised to protect themselves and others during this spike by staying at home when sick, frequently washing hands and using hand sanitizer when in public and seeking testing when symptoms consistent with COVID-19 appear. Additionally, wearing masks while in crowded indoor settings is strongly encouraged.”

How other ski companies are responding

The Aspen Skiing Company

The Aspen Skiing Company, which operates Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado, has required face coverings in all indoor locations, including ticket offices, on-mountain restaurants and gondola cabins since the start of the season. On Dec. 23, Aspen expanded the mask requirement to gondola lift lines. Aspen operates two gondolas: one at Aspen Mountain and two at Snowmass.

The Aspen Skiing Company also requires proof of vaccination to eat at four of their fine dining restaurants: Cloud Nine, Alpin Room Restaurant at High Alpine, Sam’s Restaurant and Lynn Britt Cabin. Additionally, they require proof of vaccination to be an overnight guest, or a guest at their restaurants, at four hotels they own: Limelight Aspen, Limelight Snowmass, Limelight Ketchum and The Little Nell.

Alterra Mountain Company

Privately held Alterra Mountain Company, which operates 14 popular ski areas in North America, allows each of its resorts to set their own policies regarding face coverings. Eight of their 14 resorts operate gondolas (or in the case of Palisades Tahoe, a tram and funitel), and only two of their resorts require face coverings on their gondolas: Stratton and Tremblant.

Big Bear Mountain Resort (California): Face coverings are required indoors only.

Blue Mountain Resort (Ontario, Canada): Face coverings are required indoors only. Guests are required to show proof of vaccination before entering any dining facilities, bars/nightclubs, indoor recreation facilities (including gyms, pools and tennis courts) and indoor meeting/conference spaces.

Crystal Mountain (Washington): Face coverings are required indoors only. Face coverings are not required on the Mt. Rainier Gondola, however, if a guest is uncomfortable riding the gondola with guests outside their immediate group, the resort will accommodate them in their own gondola cabin.

Deer Valley Resort (Utah): Face coverings are required indoors only and “single layer buffs and perforated or vented masks are not permitted.” Face coverings are not required when riding Deer Valley’s Jordanelle Express Gondola, which holds four passengers per gondola cabin. However, the resort is providing guests the option to ride with members of their own party. Additionally, Deer Valley is accommodating any request to only ride with members of their own group on any of their chairlifts across their resort.

June Mountain (California): Face coverings are required indoors only.

Mammoth Mountain (California): Face coverings are required indoors only. Face coverings are not required when riding on Mammoth’s Panorama Gondola or Village Gondola.

Palisades Tahoe (California): Face coverings are required indoors only. Face coverings are only required for unvaccinated guests while riding either the tram or funitel. However, no proof of vaccination is required.

According to the Palisades Tahoe website, “The Aerial Tram and Funitel are not considered indoor spaces. They are private transportation carriers, that are well ventilated and take less than 15 minutes per trip, so they do not meet the standard of being “indoors.” That said, we strongly recommend masks/face coverings in the Aerial Tram and Funitel when riding, and we continue to require unvaccinated guests to wear masks/face coverings in the Aerial Tram and Funitel. Masks will be readily available around the Village and at the entrances to the Aerial Tram and Funitel for anyone who needs one. The Wa She Shu chairlift (formerly S* One) has open-air access to the upper mountain for any guests who are uncomfortable riding the Aerial Tram or Funitel.”

Snowshoe Mountain (West Virginia): Face coverings are required indoors only.

Solitude Mountain Resort (Utah): Face coverings are required indoors only.

Steamboat Ski Resort (Colorado): Face coverings are required indoors only and “single layer buffs and perforated or vented masks are not allowed.” Face coverings are not required when riding on the Steamboat Gondola.

Stratton Mountain (Vermont): Face coverings are required indoors only. Face coverings are also required for all guests when riding Stratton’s gondola.

Sugarbush Resort (Vermont): Face coverings are required indoors only.

Tremblant (Quebec, Canada): Proof of vaccination is required to ski and access the resorts lodges. Face coverings are also required indoors and while riding the gondola. According to the resort’s website, “Following the latest announcements from Quebec Public Health authorities, we wanted to inform you that we will be complying with all prescribed measures, including verifying vaccine passports or proof of vaccination of guests aged 13 and older using the lifts.”

Winter Park Resort (Colorado): Face coverings are required indoors only. Face coverings are not required when riding on Winter Park’s gondola.

Other ski area policies, coast-to-coast

Alta Ski Area (Utah): Face coverings are required indoors only.

Big Sky Resort (Montana): On Dec. 24, Big Sky Resort began an indoor mask requirement for both team members and guests (age two or older). Face coverings are now required indoors. According to the resort, “Masks will not be required outdoors, including while riding the Lone Peak Tram.

Brighton Resort (Utah): Face coverings are required indoors only.

Camelback Resort (Pennsylvania): Face coverings are not required indoors or outdoors at the resort.

Copper Mountain (Colorado): Face coverings are only required on shuttle buses and at the Woodward Copper Barn, Copper’s adventure sport center. Face coverings are not required in any of Copper’s lodges.

Gore Mountain (New York): Face coverings are required indoors and while riding the gondola. According to the resort, “Face coverings may not be removed at any time inside gondola cabins. Failure to do so may result in loss of lift pass.” The mountain also adds, “Masks that have holes for your mouth or nose (neoprene ski masks) or single-layer buffs will not satisfy the mask requirement.”

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (Wyoming): According to the resort, Teton County Public Health still requires individuals within Teton County to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces through Dec. 31, 2021. As a result of this order, face coverings are required indoors only. The resort also says, “The tram is included in the definition of public indoor spaces, given its capacity for 100 people. Outdoor spaces, including the base area, lift lines and the other lifts, will not require masks.” Guests riding Jackson Hole’s two gondolas, Sweetwater or Bridger, are not required to wear face coverings.

Jay Peak Resort (Vermont): Jay Peak does not require face coverings indoors. However, as of Dec. 23, face coverings are now required while riding their tram. The resort says, “Jay Peak employees will be masked when indoors and guests are strongly encouraged to do the same in public areas and anywhere you can’t maintain 6′ of distance from others.”

Killington Ski Resort (Vermont): Face coverings are required indoors and while riding Killington’s two gondolas, but are not required in lift lines or on chair lifts.

Snowbasin Resort (Utah): Face coverings are not required at Snowbasin, including in their lodges, gondolas or tram. They are only required for Snowbasin employees working in indoor areas. However, the resort encourages their guests to wear face coverings in all indoor spaces, including their lodges and restaurants.

Snowbird (Utah): On Dec. 17, Snowbird reinstated its face cover policy. According to the resort, “While Snowbird has not seen a rise in COVID-19 cases, we are getting reports of an uptick in cases from local medical professionals. Out of an abundance of caution as we approach the holiday season, Snowbird is reinstating its face-covering policy immediately. This policy requires all guests and employees, vaccinated or not, to wear a 2-layer face covering while indoors or riding the Tram. Face coverings are not required when actively eating or drinking indoors nor while working outdoors or skiing and riding. Lifts will be loaded to full capacity unless special accommodations are requested by a guest.

Sugarloaf Resort (Maine): Face coverings are not required indoors. According to the mountain, “In accordance with current CDC guidance, face masks/coverings are recommended and encouraged while indoors for all guests, regardless of vaccination status. All Sugarloaf staff members are required to wear face coverings while indoors.”

Sun Valley Resort (Idaho): Since Sept. 15, 2021, city ordinances in Sun Valley and Ketchum require everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a face covering while in indoor public spaces. Sun Valley Resort also highly recommends guests wear face coverings when riding the Roundhouse Gondola, but they are not required.

Sunday River Resort (Maine): Face coverings are recommended, but not required. The resort says, “Following CDC guidance, we recommend that all guests, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask while indoors at our resort. Masks are also recommended outdoors when distancing cannot be accommodated.”

Telluride Ski Resort (Colorado): Face coverings are required indoors only, including on the gondola that connects the Town of Telluride with the Mountain Village. Since the gondola is considered public transportation, face coverings are already required under existing federal law. According to Telluride, “Per San Miguel County Public Health Order, masks are required in all indoor public spaces for individuals two years of age and older, regardless of vaccination status. Federal and state law requires masks on all forms of public transportation, including the gondola. On the gondola, masks must be worn for the entire ride.”

Please remember the #MountainVillageCO #Telluride gondola is public transportation, and masks are required at all times while riding the gondola and in gondola stations. pic.twitter.com/XZiiC2vpKL

— Mountain Village (@MountainVillage) December 23, 2021

Whiteface Mountain (New York): Face coverings are required indoors and while riding the gondola. According to the resort, “Face coverings may not be removed at any time inside gondola cabins. Failure to do so may result in loss of lift pass.” The mountain also adds, “Masks that have holes for your mouth or nose (neoprene ski masks) or single-layer buffs will not satisfy the mask requirement.”

Bottom line

Requirements for face coverings and vaccinations can vary by resort – even at some resorts owned by the same company.

Vail Resorts, followed closely behind by The Aspen Skiing Company, have been the most consistent in the implementation of their face covering and vaccinations requirements. Vail Resorts has now updated their policies to require face covering when riding any enclosed gondola or tram across nine of their resorts, starting Dec. 29.

And don’t forget, even if face coverings are not required indoors at your favorite resort, if utilizing public transportation, you should anticipate being required to wear one. Face coverings are still required on all transportation networks through March 18, 2022.

Even though the ski season is just starting, we can anticipate resorts will continue to be aggressive in doing everything within their power to protect their guests and employees. But they have another reason to be concerned: ski resort employees who test positive for COVID-19 (including the highly transmissible omicron variant) could impact the overall operation of a ski area.

Many employees of the major ski resorts live together (including in corporate-provided housing), which only exacerbates the potential issue and spread of the virus, if an employee tests positive. This past week, we saw the impact this has had on airlines. Quarantined employees continues to be an issue that is top of mind for all ski resort executives, as no ski resort wants to close lifts, lodges or parts of the mountain due to a staffing shortage.

In the meantime, before hitting the slopes, make sure you review the protocols of the resort you are skiing or riding, and don’t forget about parking. Have fun on the slopes, stay warm and stay safe.

Featured image by Daniel Milchev/Getty Images. 

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