Experienced alpine skiers who have bolstered their quivers recently with touring-capable equipment — and data shows there are a ton of them out there — are no doubt hoping to dip their ski tips into the backcountry this season. And why wouldn’t they? Serious questions persist about what the season will look like in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Reduced lift capacities, social distancing orders, mandatory quarantines for out-of-state visitors and other restrictions will significantly alter the resort experience in 2020-21.
Many with new AT gear likely will put it to the test from the relative familiarity of the resorts they know best, experimenting with in-bounds touring. That means exploring resort “sidecountry,” whether hiking ridgelines from off the lift network or earning each and every turn from the base area by skinning up designated trails.
Before freeing your heels this season, though, experts advise backcountry enthusiasts to familiarize themselves with resort policies, as they can vary significantly from mountain to mountain. Some require possession of an uphill pass, sometimes free, sometimes at a nominal cost. Many prohibit uphill travel except along designated routes and only at designated “off-hour” times. Some don’t allow uphill access at all.
“We know how special the uphill experience is to many in our local communities,” said Vail Resorts’ Bonnie MacPherson, communications manager representing Okemo, Mount Sunapee and Crotched. “We will continue to permit uphill access with some new safety protocols put in place to minimize incidents. We anticipate a larger interest in uphill access this season and we have adjusted our policies in order to safely manage demand as we also prioritize managing demand for daily operations.”