The good news about Vail’s new requirements for the 2020-21 skiing and riding season? The details seem like a manageable set of hurdles to jump through in order to enjoy the outdoors this winter in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bad? Those days of letting your whims take you in whatever direction they may, a tried-and-true method on a powder day, are finished.
For now, anyway.
At least, they will be at Vail’s 34 North American resorts this season, during which skiers and riders will need to make a reservation in order to secure a spot on that day’s roster. This will help manage mountain access in a world of social distancing at New England Vail properties, which include Stowe, Mount Snow, Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Attitash, and Wildcat.
“For the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to,” Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said in a statement. “However, we are not planning for the majority of days, we are planning for every day of the season. We want to provide assurance to our guests that we will do our very best to minimize crowds at all times – be it a holiday weekend or the unpredictable powder day. We believe this approach will help ensure a safe experience for everyone, while prioritizing access for our pass holders.”
Epic Pass holders will receive priority access to the reservation system, including access all season with week-of reservations. They will also have exclusive early-season access, with daily lift tickets not going on sale to the public until Dec. 8.
Other wrinkles in Vail’s plan include:
- Guests will be required to wear face coverings to get on the mountain and in all parts of resort operations, including in lift lines and riding in lifts and gondolas. Based on all of our own tense experiences recently, I’m sure there will be no disputes at all over this.
- To maintain physical distancing on chairlifts and gondolas, the resorts will only be seating related parties or two singles on opposite sides of a four-person lift; two singles or two doubles on opposite sides of a six-person lift; or two singles on opposite sides of our larger gondola cabins. Got it?
- Ski school will be open, as will on-mountain dining, but with changes to keep guests safe. Cafeteria? Maybe. A packed house at Ptamrigan’s Pub for après? Don’t bet on it.
To give guests more time to consider the changes, the Labor Day deadline to redeem unused credits from last season has been extended to Sept. 17.
The reservation system is going to be something new, and frankly, somewhat of a hassle for those who want to plan their upcoming days on the weather. If you book your day at Mount Snow for Tuesday, and the storm actually hits on Monday instead, well…tough luck. Hope you like leftovers.
But on the flip side, we could be looking at last March instead, when Vail began the nationwide shutdown of ski resorts at the brink of coronavirus fear. Reservations are worth not having that happen again.
It’s also fair to expect such a reservation system to occur at other resorts across the Northeast. Wachusett Mountain, one of the busiest ski areas (in terms of volume) in the country, recently announced that it might utilize such a system in order to operate at 50-75 percent of normal, daily volume. It would make sense to see other big-time destinations do the same. It means planning your days in advance of the last-minute trip.
Will smaller ski areas like Magic, Black, and Mad River Glen have to do the same?
It isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the ski season. That would be what already happened. The fear that it could repeat itself is worth changing a few habits here and there.
Vail’s restrictions are a good, first step.