Thursday was the final day that Epic Pass holders could use their credits from the COVID-shortened 2019-20 skiing and riding season toward a new pass for the upcoming winter. So, it was only logical to predict that Vail Resorts would find their servers overloaded the day before, as users waited until the last minute to redeem their balances.
It’s been a bit of a jumbled month for Vail when it comes to its e-commerce. Customers looking to apply their credits toward a lesser-value pass (i.e. the new Northeast Value Pass, good for use at Vail’s New England properties — Stowe, Okemo, Mount Snow, Attitash, Wildcat, Mount Sunapee, and Crotched ) found a roadblock online, directing them to call customer service, where representatives were overloaded with calls. Vail’s response to the confusion has been admirable (tip of the hat to Eastern Region senior manager of communications Jamie Storrs for his open communication with befuddled customers on social media), but the problems have, nonetheless, raised a concern for Epic Pass holders looking to ski or ride this winter.
If it was this difficult to renew season passes, what is it going to be like come time to utilize Vail’s online reservation system?
As part of its COVID-19 protocols, Vail Resorts announced last month that it would require reservations for at least the beginning of the 2020-21 season. 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.
But will Vail’s online system see another overload at the first sign of snow?
Of course, face coverings, social distancing, and changes to the food operations will be standard across the board at New England ski areas this winter. But it doesn’t appear as if reservations, like Vail has implemented, will necessarily be the norm this winter.
At least, not yet.
Despite the mountains only seeing tinges of color changes in the trees, many resorts have already started making plans for the upcoming season, providing the information for thirsty skiers and riders trying to get a grasp on what this season will look like from a logistical perspective. Ikon Pass announced earlier this week that it would not require reservations for most of its 38 North American destinations. That includes Killington (which will require parking reservations for both season pass and day ticket holders), Sugarbush, Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Loon, and Pico. Alterra Mountain Company, owners of Sugarbush and Stratton, has eliminated walk-up window sales, and the sale of most undated lift ticket products will be discontinued until further notice.
Jay Peak announced this week that it would not require its season pass holders to make reservations this winter, partly because the resort figures its guests will have plenty of “room to roam” on the mountain. Jay revealed that it depends on 50 percent of its visitors coming from Canada, and that market is in certain flux right now with the border remaining closed until at least late October. Day-trippers will also be allowed to purchase tickets at the window.
Neither Sugarloaf nor Sunday River will not require reservations for season or Ikon Pass holders to begin the season. Day lift tickets may have limited availability on peak dates, but tickets for ski and stay packages at Sunday River will not be affected. Fellow Boyne property Loon Mountain has not announced any intention to require reservations at this time, however, daily lift tickets will be limited and must be purchased online.
Wachusett is considering making reservations a requirement, but, for now, the Massachusetts ski area is planning to sell day tickets in four-hour sessions (morning and afternoon) and night tickets in three-hour sessions to control traffic on the mountain. Waterville Valley is planning on a reservation systems for tickets, base lodge usage, and dining spaces. Cannon Mountain may choose to limit the number of additional passes it sells, but hopes to be able to let pass holders visit without restrictions.
Of course, there are also quarantine restrictions for travel across state borders to look forward to, never mind just making a reservation to ski. In other words, if you’re not planning at least a few days in advance this winter, you should probably prepare for a headache, whether you’re a season pass holder or not.
But you’ll be skiing, so it’s going to be worth the hassle.