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One rule we’ve adopted for travel during Covid-19: Know before you go. That certainly holds true for the 2021 skiing season. While so much of the pandemic has been a downer, the changes coming to ski resorts actually have the potential to make skiing better for families this year! It will require you to put your expert family vacation planning skills to work. But if you do, this could be an excellent year to take a ski holiday. Here’s what to expect from the 2020-2021 ski season in North America.
Ski towns were hit hard when the coronavirus pandemic came full force to the U.S. Ski resorts were forced to shut down abruptly. Since then, resort ski towns have been planning and preparing for a very different world of skiing in 2021.
The bottom line for families: Reduced capacities and a much lower teacher-to-student ratio in ski school will make for a better skiing experience. Even better, the pandemic is forcing ski areas to innovate in ways that will benefit skiers and snowboarders long term.
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Here’s how these changes will benefit skiers. And why it means that your expert planning skills will be needed more than ever.
You’ll Feel Warmer
Face masks can be annoying, especially on a hot summer day. But in the winter when you’re rushing down a mountain into the wind? Face coverings are essential.
This summer, ski resorts required masks indoors and outdoors when less than six feet from another person. With coronavirus rates spiking, these requirements have become even more strict.
Fortunately most skiers are already used to wearing face coverings to keep themselves warm. I never let my kids leave for their ski programs without a buff or neck gaiter. Ever. And, this has been our practice for several years.
Most resorts will be requiring face coverings while on the mountain. The exception may be that skiers can remove face coverings while actually skiing or snowboarding down the slopes. But you’ll likely want to keep them on to stay warm.
Some ski towns are requiring face coverings both indoors and outdoors when not in your own private space, or eating and drinking in restaurants.
TravelingMom Tip: Snowbasin in Utah even added a yurt village at the base of the Middle Bowl to provide an area for guests to rest and warm up.
Planning is Rewarded
Yes, some people like to be spontaneous. But when you’re traveling with kids, gear, and maybe the dog, spontaneity is little more than a happy memory of your BC (Before Children) life.
This year, planners rule when it comes to family ski vacations.
No more buying last minute lift tickets at the window, or even driving up the morning of to ski on a big powder day.
But the upside is that means fewer people on the slopes and more wide open spaces for you.
Wide Open Spaces
Ski areas have hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of acres for outdoor recreation. This season you may have even more of these open spaces and fresh mountain air to yourselves.
Some ski companies, like Vail Resorts, are requiring reservations for ski days. They have prioritized season passholders, but added day lift tickets to the pass programs. Epic Passes will be needed to ski. But there are Epic day passes available.
Other resorts like Aspen Snowmass in Colorado are not planning to require reservations. Rather they plan to manage capacity in other ways such as offering reduced price pass products for mid week to lure skiers who otherwise might have skied on the weekend.
Smaller ski resorts like Alta in Utah and Copper Mountain in Colorado are managing capacity through parking. Copper Mountain will require reservations for parking. Alta will publish parking forecasts in its website.
While some ski resorts may still sell day-of lift tickets, it is absolutely not guaranteed. Some resorts will only be selling lift tickets online, but will have lift ticket boxes to reduce lines.
Again, with some planning, this can be a good thing. It means that you will have even more wide open spaces to yourself skiing 2021. Plan, plan, plan ahead for your ski trip this year so this works out in your favor.
TravelingMom Tip: Even in Coronavirus times there are still ski resorts offering kids ski free programs!
You Get to Hang with Your Homies
Physical distancing will be managed on lifts by only seating related parties together, or two singles or two doubles on opposite sides of larger lifts or gondola cabins. Parties can always opt out of riding with a different group on the chairlifts or gondolas.
Skiers will see spacing markers in lift lines, and the maze may be reconfigured. Fortunately, a pair of skis is a natural, easy way to keep space between you and the group ahead of or behind you.
You Can Feed the Kids Fast
It’s no fun having hangry kids. Being able to feed them fast is the key to family happiness. Pre-ordering meals via an app? Yes, please!
Restaurants in ski resort towns will be governed by local guidance and capacity restrictions. So, this is the area where you will see the biggest changes. As we know, change is hard, but it can be a good thing. This is where the resorts have had to innovate the most.
Ski Resorts have made efforts to expand outdoor seating by adding picnic tables. And, what is better than enjoying lunch on a sunny deck? They will be managing capacity in and out of the restaurants.
But the biggest changes come in the form of technology. The Aspen Snowmass app will now offer the ability to order to-go food for pick up.
For many of Vail Resorts quick serve restaurants, guests will book their Time to Dine through the EpicMix app.
TravelingMom Tip: Protect yourself by bringing your own water and snacks.
There’s Still Apres-Ski, Coronavirus Style
Apres-Ski will be one of the things that will not exist in its past form. Most bars will be closed. The days of kicking off your ski boots at a bar to drink and dance with strangers just won’t happen this year.
But you know what? There are so many even better apres-ski traditions. From relaxing in a hot tub to enjoying a charcuterie board and wine on your own private balcony, skiers will find more intimate ways to enjoy this wind down to the ski day.
It’s a chance for your family to create new traditions and memories.
Kids Could Get More Out of Ski School
Group ski school sizes will be capped between 5 to 10 people, and require advance reservations. At Aspen Snowmass, group lessons will be capped as low as five people. The teacher-to-student ratio will be better than ever, and offer a more intimate experience. Again, advance reservations will be required.
TravelingMom Tip: Childcare options for younger children may be limited. At some resorts this can be circumvented by booking a private family ski lesson. Now that’s a win win!
Ski Rentals Will Be Easier
The days of filling out long forms at the ski rental counter may be a headache of the past. Vail Resorts will be offering Digital Sign-in Stations (at select locations only) so pass holders can scan or swipe their pass to populate the rental contract. This is one of those innovations that will benefit skiers long term.
In recent years, ski delivery and ski valet services have become popular. This will continue and is likely to continue to gain popularity. Who wouldn’t want to skip the lines at the ski rental shop and pick up their skis at the base of the mountain?
Ski rental returns will be easier, too, with outdoor tents, and at Aspen Snowmass a new virtual queuing system.
As with everything this skiing 2021 season, advance reservations will be quite important. Rent your ski gear ahead of time!
TravelingMom Tip: Bookmark our ski packing list, which includes a new section on what you need for 2021 skiing.
You Can Do More than Ski!
Ski resorts actually have much more to offer than just alpine skiing. Resorts will be focusing on the ski and snowboard experience this year. Other on mountain activities like snow tubing may not be available, nor will much of the evening on-mountain dining. Add limited on-mountain capacities and this is an opportunity to do more on this family ski vacation that you may have in the past.
Here are some other fun winter activities to consider:
- Cross country skiing. Many ski resort areas have nearby Nordic skiing centers.
- Sledding. A spot uncrowded with other families makes easy fun for the family.
- Dog sledding. This is one of those bucket list experiences for families. Look for a company that will allow you to participate only with your “pandemic pod” group.
- Natural hot springs. Soaking in hot water while the snow falls is a special experience.
- Ice castles. This is a magical experience and many ski resorts have nearby ice castles.
- Snowmobiling. This might just be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to take an adventurous snowmobiling excursion.
- Roasting s’mores. Who doesn’t love those sticky, sweet concoctions? Make it more fun with one of these yummy s’mores recipe variations.
Find Out How Your Ski Resort is Changing
Did you know that there are almost 500 ski resorts in the United States? 470 to be precise. That’s a lot. And, every resort will be operating just a bit different that the others.
You will want to check before you go. Here are quick links to many of the individual North American resorts and their specific skiing 2021 information.
Vail Resorts individual mountains of Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek, Park City, Crested Butte, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe, Okemo, Mt Snow, Hunter, Attitash Mountain, Wildcat Mountain, Mount Sunapee, Crocheted Mountain, Liberty Mountain, Roundtop Mountain, Whitetail, Jack Frost, Big Boulder, Wilmot Mountain, Afton Alps, Mt Brighton, Alpine Valley, Boston Mills, Brandywine, Mad River Mountain, Hidden Valley may operate slightly differently based on state or county health regulations. But you can see their overarching operational changes here.
IKON Pass Resorts are all operating with a larger variety of difference. You’ll want to take a look at the individual resort websites of Aspen Snowmass, Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Steamboat Springs, A-Basin, Jackson Hole, Taos, Alta, Deer Valley, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, June Mountain, Mammoth Mountain, Boyne, Sugarloaf, Snowshoe Mountain, Killington – Pico, Brighton and Snowbird.
The state ski trade associations have also pulled together guides helping to inform guests of skiing 2021 operational changes.
Will you be skiing this winter of 2020-2021? If so, where? Tell us in the comments below!