Vail Resorts says this ski season is a go: Here’s what you’ll need to hit the slopes
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And while skiers and boarders have spent the following months hoping that this upcoming winter season will bring with it a chance to get back out there on the powder, we haven’t really known how — or if — things will work on the mountain. While the mountain itself is typically pretty wide open, naturally distanced and full of fresh air, the same isn’t true of all of the lifts, lines, gondolas, lessons and restaurants that can aptly be described as “pinch points.”
We’ve now learned that there are plans for a 2020–2021 ski season at Vail Resorts’ 34 North American resorts, and we know how they plan to make it work.
Related: Comparing the top annual ski passes
This first change is likely not surprising, but it’s still major.
Just like at Disney World and even many national parks, you are going to have to make reservations to ski or ride before heading to one of Vail’s 34 resorts that include big names such as Keystone, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Park City, Crested Butte and Whistler.
Those with any type of Epic Pass can make up to seven reservations for the season beginning on Nov. 6 (up to the max number of days on your pass). As you use those days, you can make reservations for additional days. For example, if you book seven days on the mountain from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, you can then start booking ski days for your March spring break trip as you use those seven days up around the holidays … assuming there is still availability.
Any available on-mountain days that you book the “week of” don’t count toward your seven-day advance bookings. In other words, if you notice on Monday that Thursday at Vail should be a “powder day” and there’s availability that you lock it in just a few days out, it won’t count against those seven advance days.
Vail’s modeling indicates that for the majority of days this season, they should be able to accommodate all that want to be on the mountain. However, on powder days, holidays and peak weekends, it may very well hit capacity numbers and those who have the advance reservations will be the ones who get to enjoy the snow.
Passholders get first dibs
Unlike at Disney World where some passholders have complained they are treated a bit like second-class citizens in favor of those with individual tickets and resort reservations when it comes to getting a booking to enter the park, at the Vail Resorts, Epic passholders come first.
Those with an Epic Pass will be the only ones to enjoy early-season skiing as individual lift tickets will not go on sale until Dec. 8. (Vail hopes to start the season with the opening of Keystone on Nov. 6 — conditions permitting.)
Epic Pass holders will also get a full month’s jump on making advance priority reservations for the season from Nov. 6–Dec. 7, over those who are purchasing individual lift tickets who won’t have that ability until Dec. 8.
If that sounds woefully unfair, remember that Epic has passes for sale with as few as one ski day loaded on them at prices that are up to 50% cheaper than many traditional walk-up lift ticket rates (though remember walk-up tickets won’t be available at all this season). Those tickets are treated the same as a full season-long Epic Pass for the purposes of being able to make advance bookings.
Masks required, distancing in place
Face coverings will be required to enter all of the Vail-operated resorts. They must be worn in lift lines, while on the lifts and gondolas, when inside all of the buildings and during all ski and snowboard lessons.
Lifts will consist either only of one party of those skiing together, or two singles on opposite sides of a four-person chair, two doubles on opposite sides of a six-person chair or two singles on opposite sides of the larger gondolas.
Lunchtime on the mountain is a notoriously packed experience, especially on weekends and holidays. Vail will operate its restaurants, but with capped capacity and monitoring of the number of guests going in and out. The seating and flow of some restaurants will be altered to improve traffic flow and distancing. Vail is also encouraging guests to pack their own snacks and water and potentially even food, which frankly will save you a ton of money on top of everything else.
Vail will not operate formal bars this season, though packaged beer and wine will be available.
(Ski) school is in session
Ski and ride lessons are in the plans for this season. Group classes will be capped at six participants and private lessons will be available. All lesson reservations must be made in advance and will come with mountain access reservations.
Face coverings are required for those in lessons, and there will be additional self-health screening questions to answer.
Along those lines, Vail Resorts told TPG that the Epic SchoolKids program will be available this year to allow kids up to 5th grade to ski for free in many instances, but they are working out the details of how it will operate.
Related: How kids can ski free this season
Extra time to buy a pass — and you want a pass
The deadline to use discounts available to last season’s Epic Passholders, and for locking in the lowest rates for this year’s passes was set to be Sept. 7. However, in light of these announcements, Vail is providing a little extra time to mull it over until Sept. 17.
If you plan to ski or ride at a Vail property this season, especially during a traditional peak time, it’s clear that this is the year to get an Epic Pass of some sort to be able to secure that advance booking window from Nov. 6–Dec. 7. On top of that, it’s simply more economical most of the time to have a pass than not. This year, all Epic Pass products also come with free coverage that will provide refunds in qualified situations such as closures due to COVID-19, job loss, injury, etc.
This ski season is going to be different. But really, what isn’t different in 2020. You’re going to have to plan, especially if you are arranging a big trip in from out-of-state. Apres-ski isn’t going to look the same as it did before — so book that sweet Airbnb and enjoy post-mountain beverages in your own hot tub.
This ski season will happen as the country is still battling a pandemic, so certain adjustments are crucial if mountain communities want to not only start the season — but finish the season. Last year we saw mountain towns become early hot spots, likely not because of the time actually on the powder but because of the close proximity of some of the off-mountain activities.
As for my family … we are crossing our fingers and actively planning a winter ski trip. We’ll likely pack our own lunch to eat outdoors, invest in a private instructor instead of a group lesson for our youngest skier (as we did in early March last season), make our must-have ski reservations well in advance and lean into available coverages and cancellation policies to protect us in case things don’t go to plan.
But hopefully, they will. For those counting down, there are just 71 more days until the lifts are scheduled to start turning at Keystone.
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