What’s new, you ask?
More like what exactly won’t be new about skiing and riding this winter?
While COVID-19 has thrown a host of new regulations into the fabric of the 2020-21 season, it sure beats the alternative that we experienced last March. The good news is that there will be skiing and riding. How long it lasts might be based on how well everyone falls in line with the requirements in place.
There will be some universal headaches, such as the expectation that families boot up at their cars, the requirement to wear masks, social distancing on the chairlifts, riding gondolas with the windows open, and the overall inability to treat this skiing and riding season like any ever before. It’s going to take preliminary and mandatory commitment in order to visit your favorite ski resort in Vermont.
You’re going to be packing a lot of lunches, forgoing the aprés scene, and, quite possibly, find yourself waiting in longer lift lines than usual, as resorts make the necessary precautions to separate parties.
Thus, with all the preparations and uncertainty that came with getting ready for the winter of 2020-21, there were only but a handful of offseason capital improvements at ski areas across New England. Normally, resorts are touting the changes they made in snowmaking, lift service and food options. This year, many of the wrinkles came in the form of outdoor food trucks, heating lamps and limiting ticket sales.
Every resort throughout New England will require masks and social distancing. Most will have strict limitations on the use of their lodges. Others will stagger lift ticket time frames and require reservations for skiing and parking.
There are plenty of new developments to digest this season, even if it may be different than the norm. Most importantly, always remember to call or check a resort’s website or social media for the latest updates about new operation procedures. Skiers and riders also should figure that they will need to purchase tickets online ahead of their expected arrival.
When you get there, here’s what will look and feel different this winter.
While disembarking from the gondola last winter, you might have
noticed the massive structure under construction at the summit of Bretton Woods. Well, this year, the new, 16,000-square-foot Rosebrook Lodge is prepared for its debut.
The event facility features natural decor to complement the surroundings, with surrounding views of New Hampshire’s highest peaks through the wall-length windows and expansive outdoor decks, all serviced by the resort’s eight-passenger gondola. Rosebrook Lodge will be home to enhanced skier services, multiple dining options, and the Crystal Hills event venue, which already has hosted a few weddings. The lodge is now open seasonally.
Also of note at Bretton Woods this season: The canopy tour, the slopeside climbing wall and kids snowmobile park will remain closed to help avoid close contact among users and guides.
Pats Peak is aiming to make this winter a lot more comfortable for outside dining by implementing a lot more deck heaters, along with wind blocks in order to make the experience more enjoyable. The Henniker ski area also has created a take-out window for cafeteria food. Guy’s to Go-Go will feature homemade food that you can take to one of the 30-plus new tables at the ski area’s outdoor seating. Pats Peak also will add bathroom facilities at the base lifts for those who want to avoid the lodge, where about half of the furniture inside has been removed in order to allow for more space for guests. A new app and ticketing kiosks also will be available to purchase tickets and receive the latest information.
In addition to rebuilding its central snowmaking pump, King Pine will be changing its hours of operation this winter. Lifts will be running every day until 6 p.m. Midweek (non-holiday) lifts will start at 9 a.m. and weekends/holiday period lifts will start running at 8:30 a.m.
In order to help guests better understand the new operating parameters, Gunstock Mountain Resort will broadcast a radio program each morning this winter. The program will run on a loop during operating hours to help guests learn about vital information, like booting up in their car, buying tickets online, and how to purchase food resort-wide. Gunstock also has made the guest experience a priority this winter, particularly with social distancing in mind. It added touchless payment technology at all points of sale and added stored value to their RFID season passes and daily tickets. This will allow guests to load money onto those products to spend in retail and restaurants while minimizing contact with others. The Gilford resort is working on a tubing hill expansion, which will add more lanes and a new moving carpet.
The tubing and mountain adventure park will be available this winter at Cranmore Mountain Resort, in North Conway, with tickets sold in two-hour time blocks. All tickets, like lift tickets (which will be prioritized for season pass-holders) must be purchased online, prior to arrival, and are based strictly on availability. Attitash Mountain Resort, Wildcat Mountain, Mount Sunapee and Crotched Mountain, all under the Vail/Epic Pass umbrella, will require reservations to ski this winter. Day lift tickets will be limited based on the number of spaces available for any given day after the exclusive pass-holder reservation period. They will only be sold on each resort’s website.
Mount Sunapee made more news last month, when Vail Resorts submitted an updated improvement plan to the state of New Hampshire. The plan includes construction of five new chairlifts and two surface lifts. The West Bowl expansion plan includes a “new beginner area, two new low intermediate runs, two new intermediate runs, and one new advanced intermediate level run, for a total of approximately 56.2 acres of new skiing when all trails are built.”
Waterville Valley Resort will be installing digital display screens at every entrance to its lodge in order to allow both customers and management to identify lodging capacity and high congestion areas.
The installation of Loon Mountain Resort’s eight-passenger chairlift, the Kancamagus 8, was put on hold for a year. Also on hold at Cannon Mountain this year will be popular discount days such as 2-fer Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as New Year’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday specials. Both Vermont and New Hampshire halted its fourth and fifth-grade offerings this year as well.
The most important new development in the Green Mountain State this winter is the quarantine requirement for out-of-state guests. All out-of-state visitors are required to quarantine for 14 days prior to arrival, or for seven days with a negative COVID test. Each lodging property and base area will be conducting contact tracing, per state law.
In other developments, Jay Peak, which was poised to potentially lose half of its revenue this season with the Canadian border remaining closed due to the pandemic, has been added to the Indy Pass. The reasonably priced Indy Pass ($199) provides skiers and riders two days at each of 50 resorts across North America. New England options on the pass this year are Jay, Bolton Valley, Magic Mountain, Black Mountain (N.H.), Suicide Six, Cannon Mountain, Pats Peak and Berkshire East.
As Mad River Glen, home of the infamous Single Chair, has been saying the past few months, the co-op ski resort has been social distancing since its inception. The ski area also underwent a major reconstruction of its base area and ski school building this offseason.
In order to enhance its unique backcountry program, Bolton Valley Resort decided to offer backcountry equipment leases this winter. The resort sold out of splitboard leases within a month but was still leasing A/T setups as of press time.
Just like at its New Hampshire properties, Vail’s Stowe Mountain Resort, Mount Snow and Okemo Mountain Resort all will require reservations before arrival. No day tickets will be sold at the window.
Killington’s new K-1 base lodge has been delayed one season, until 2021-22. The Beast of the East also will require parking reservations this season for all season-pass holders and guests.
It’s a new era entirely at Saddleback Mountain, under new ownership and ready to open for the first time in a half-decade. Among the new developments to look out for at the Maine favorite this season will be a high-speed detachable quad chairlift and a remodeled base lodge complete with a new HVAC system, perfectly suited for providing a safer, indoors environment.
Nearby, Sugarloaf Mountain Resort will be implementing a new RFID ticketing system to ensure touchless transactions and skier tracking. At Bullwinkle’s, the on-mountain restaurant, a new temporary building and bathroom facility will add additional space for guests to warm up and use the bathroom. An additional temporary bathroom facility also will be installed at the base lodge. The Sugarloaf 2030 Road Map, including the West Mountain development, saw some derailment during the pandemic, but surveying and permitting for the development did take place this past summer.
Fellow Boyne Resorts property Sunday River also will be using RFID technology this season. In September, the resort launched the Merrill Hill real estate development. At press time, inventory was already over 50 percent reserved. Perched atop a mountain between Sunday River Resort’s South Ridge and Aurora Peak, Merrill Hill offers 24 chairlift-serviced home sites. The resort also launched pre-construction sale of units in the Dream Maker Lodge condominium project. Again, it saw a 50 percent reservation rate. The pandemic also forced some delays to Sunday River’s own 2030 Plan, but new general manager Brian Heon told New England Ski Journal over the summer that it is still moving forward.
Noting that overcrowding is often an issue at the popular ski area, Wachusett Mountain will sell lift tickets in four-hour increments this winter (morning and afternoon) and night tickets in three-hour sessions (two each night). In order to keep guests more comfortable outside, Wachusett is providing more outdoor seating on its deck, including additional fire pits, heaters, and heated benches. There also will be more outdoor storage provided. Wachusett plans on having adjusted class sizes for its ski school this winter with staggered lineups.