Kids Skiing
Kids Skiing

How a Covid-Paranoid Parent is Approaching Ski Season

We are a very Covid-cautious family. 

This year, we’re homeschooling our kids because of the pandemic. We get everything delivered, from clothes to groceries to medications. Normally frequent travelers,  we haven’t been in a plane or stayed in a hotel since February. 

Yet this winter, I’m considering a family ski vacation. For better or worse, my kids have loved skiing since they first tried it at the tender ages of 5 and 2. And I think that with some careful planning, we can bring the Covid risk—and attendant stress—very low. 

That’s assuming that U.S. ski resorts continue to be open as planned. In Europe, some countries are planning to keep them closed at least through 2020, while others are pushing for openings. 

Here’s our approach to skiing this year:

Staying within driving distance

There’s no way our family is getting on an airplane this winter. That means we’ll be limited to resorts that are within driving distance of our home—in sunny Southern California, surrounded by desert. 

We can drive to one very small ski mountain within about three hours. If we’re willing to do a six- or seven-hour road trip, we can get to the aptly named Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which has 3,500-acre skiable acres and 28 lifts. If we’re up for a 10-hour drive, we get even more choices, but that’s a tough slog; at that point we’d have to consider whether it would be worth staying overnight on the way. 

Sleeping near the slopes

Normally, this is about convenience. It’s so much easier to be a block or two away from the lift—or even right on the slope—especially when you have kids. Kids still might complain about walking to the lift, and you may end up balancing three sets of skis on your shoulders. But it’s better than loading everyone and everything into the car, driving 45 minutes to the slopes, then having to unload it all again. 

This year, however, our lodging choices will be all about risk avoidance. If we can stay slopeside, we won’t have to use lockers to stow our stuff, which means less time indoors. It also means we can head back to our digs for lunch, instead of using communal facilities—and maybe even use our accommodations for bathroom breaks. Ski resorts are expanding their takeaway and outdoor dining options, and working to ensure that people can stay apart indoors. But especially with little kids—who may or may not be the best listeners—it’s less stressful just to stay away. 

Looking at secondary resorts

Better-known ski areas tend to draw bigger crowds. Though many resorts are limiting the number of lift tickets available on any given day, lines can still be long and tiring because skiers are being spaced out. We’ll consider less popular spots. 

That goes for parking lots, too—at ski areas with multiple access points, you’ll often find that some entrances (usually secondary ones) are quieter than others. When we skied in Keystone, Colo., last year, we found that Mountain House was at least half as crowded as River Run Village. 

Checking (and re-checking) cancellation policies

As we’ve all learned this year, things can change on a dime. We don’t want to lose money on our ski vacation, or waste a bunch of time fighting for a refund.

To encourage people to make advance bookings in uncertain times, U.S. ski resorts, and many hotel and vacation rental companies, are being generous with cancellation policies. Mammoth, for instance, will give you a full refund for any activities or lift tickets cancelled at least three days prior to the scheduled date. But policies vary widely. It’s wise to read all of the conditions—twice—for any bookings you make. At pay for as much as you can with a credit card, in case you have trouble getting a refund. 

Booking lift days in advance

Don’t pin your hopes on a spur-of-the-moment escape: Ski resorts across the country are requiring skiers to buy lift tickets in advance, for specific dates. They’re also capping their capacities and giving priority to people who hold season passes. I’ll be making sure we can get lift tickets and ski lessons for our preferred date before I book any lodging. 

Getting rentals delivered

Every year my husband and I resolve to rent skis for the entire winter season. Seasonal rentals can be a lot cheaper than day-long or week-long resort rentals. Plus, we figure we’ll be motivated to squeeze in another trip or two. 

We never get our act together, and always end up paying a premium on the mountain. This year, we may take things a step further and book our rentals with a delivery service like Black Tie, Ski Butlers, or Epic Mountain Rentals. Some local ski shops will also deliver. 

Skiing on off-peak days

For our family, one of the (few) upsides of the pandemic has been increased flexibility. Our kids are being homeschooled and my husband and I are  working from home. We’ve taken almost no vacations this year, mostly out of an abundance of caution, but in theory we can schedule holidays for whenever we like.

Skiing on weekdays and during off-peak times should also make it easier to avoid other travelers. It’s much less expensive than more popular periods. Every time we take a ski trip, I’m reminded of how expensive a pastime it can be, so I’m happy to shave a few dollars off when I can! 

Sara Clemence is a freelance journalist, formerly travel editor for The Wall Street Journal and news director for Travel + Leisure. She's the author of Away & Aware, a guide to mindful travel.