Action | August 28, 2020 9:09 am

Vail Green-Lights the Ski Season, Masks and Reservations Required

Here’s what to expect at Vail Resorts during the pandemic

Skier in yellow skiing down a mountain in Vail, Colorado
The ski and snowboard season is going to look a lot different this year.
Curt Nichols/Unsplash

Every single industry is trying to figure how to operate during the pandemic, but U.S. ski and snowboard resorts have a particularly hard road ahead. First of all, their 2019-2020 season was cut short when COVID-19 shutdowns began in March. Going forward, wide-open mountain slopes may seem conducive to social distancing, but how do they regulate the tight spaces skiers need to navigate to get there, from the ticket desks to the chalets to the chairlifts?

Vail Resorts has a plan. The good news is that the company, which owns 34 North American resorts and runs the Epic Pass, has greenlit the ski season for 2020-2021. The more complicated news is that it has also outlined its coronavirus protocols, and they’re understandably complex.

The Colorado Sun has a good breakdown of the situation, noting that the most important change is that reservations are required before you get to the mountain — every mountain. In other words, there will be no clocking out early and rushing to the slopes on a whim this year.

“Per the company’s overarching strategy — now more than a decade old — of pushing as many skiers as possible to buy season passes before the lifts start turning, Vail Resorts is giving pass holders the early line on reservations,” writes the outlet, alluding to the Vail Resorts Epic Pass. “And the company really wants skiers to not just buy ahead, but plan their ski days weeks and even months ahead.”

From there, it gets more convoluted: Epic Pass holders are the only people who will be able to ski in the early season (from November 6 when Keystone opens, conditions permitting, until December 7) and they will be given “Priority Reservation Days” which will allow them to reserve mountain time before single lift tickets go on sale. The full details are over at the Epic Pass website.

“It has been our goal to design an approach that can remain in place for all of the 2020/21 season,” said Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz in a press release. “We do not want to be caught off guard or find ourselves needing to make reactionary changes.”

Besides reservations, some of the other changes include face masks (which will be required pretty much everywhere except on the runs themselves), physical distancing on chairlifts and gondolas, and reduced seating at restaurants and other off-mountain areas.

While The Colorado Sun reported that partner resorts that are not under the official Vail banner, like Telluride, are not subject to the same reservation system, Vail’s detailed plan will no doubt influence the decisions other mountains make in the months leading up to the season.