Today, Vail Resorts announced how it will operate its North American resorts, including Mount Snow, Okemo and Stowe, this coming season and yes, there will be a limited number of skiers/riders allowed on the mountain, social distancing on chairlifts and all sorts of other safety precautions.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
Passholders Get Early Season Priority
Until Dec. 7, only season passholders will be allowed on the mountains. That’s right: no day tickets or walk-ups. However, “passholders” includes Epic Day Pass holders (the pass where you can buy a certain number of days in advance). As you use up your 7 days, you can make more Priority advance reservations, as limited. In Vermont, Mount Snow’s scheduled season is Nov 14-April 11, Okemo’s is Nov. 21-April 4 and Stowe’s is Nov. 20-April 18. You now have until Sept. 17 to lock in a pass. In addition, after Dec. 7 passholders can reserve another 7 days on top of the “Priority Days” — giving a potential total of 14 days reserved. New days can be reserved as days are used up.
Skiing Will be by Reservation
Between Nov. 6. and Dec. 7, passholders can make early reservations for up to 7 “Priority” days of skiing. After that, you can make new ones as space allows – with only 7 days held at a time. The Epicpass.com will show availability for various days.
Lessons Guarantee a Spot
If you booked a lesson, you get to ski that day regardless of whether or not you reserved, said a spokesperson for Vail’s Northeast resorts. “Say if you and your family book a private, all six of you can ski that day and cut lines,” he noted. The key is that lessons will be limited to 6. At present other ski school programs and season-long ski school programs are still being determined.
It’s a Find-Your-Posse Season
For once, parties of four to eight may move through the lift-lines faster. That’s because only related parties of will be allowed to fill a chair or gondola together. A quad chair or gondola will otherwise take only two singles. A six- or eight-person lift can take two doubles.
Masks Are Mandatory
You’ll need to wear a mask on lifts, in lift lines and just about everywhere. In fact, as of now mask-wearing is mandatory in every public place in Vermont, as is signing this Certificate of Compliance if you arrive from anywhere out of state and plan to spend the night at a hotel or short-term rental property.
Everything Will Be Different
Ski school, on-mountain dining, base lodges and bathrooms will likely have limited capacity and additional protocols.
“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,” said CEO Rob Katz in a release.
For the Northeast, where Vail Resorts Epic Pass is good at 13 mountains —including heavily-trafficked resorts such as Hunter, N.Y., this may mean even more competition for skiing and riding days as fewer people from the metro New York, Boston and Albany areas may be willing to take a plane to ski Western resorts.
However, some of that may be mitigated if Canada’s border remains closed as Montrealers and other Canadians for whom Stowe is a home resort may not be able to come to the U.S. This could also have a significant impact on skier visits to the other northern-most resorts, especially Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, as well as Smuggler’s Notch.
Alterra Mountain Company, which owns Sugarbush and Stratton as well as 12 other resorts, in, has yet to release its policy.
Meanwhile, for many, the independent resorts which can act nimbly, look like the safest bet.
Magic Mountain was one of the first to come out with a policy for 2021, announcing that passholders would be able to make reservations for skiing, dining and pretty much every other aspect of the resort. With the state restricting gathering capacity at restaurants, Magic is hoping to move as many of its operations outdoors as possible.
“Prepare to be outside as much as possible,” Magic CEO Geoff Hatheway wrote in early August. “Both now and during the winter. Magic will be providing added space to enjoy the outdoors all day and you will need to be prepared to dress warmly. The lodge will be in use to prepare food and beverages–and serve a limited number of people inside per state-mandated restricted capacity scenarios– but that’s why its necessary to think about being outside mostly to eat and socialize, other than using restrooms.”
Magic is also part of the Indy Pass ($199 buys you two days at each of 50 resorts, or $299 with no blackouts) as well as Vermont resorts Bolton Valley and Suicide Six.
Then there’s Mad River Glen, the skier-owned coop whose single chair is the perfect answer to social distancing. It could be more popular than ever.
Opening photo: The six-pack bubble chair at Okemo will only be open to groups riding together or two socially-distance single riders or two pairs of skiers/riders. Courtesy photo.