family skiing looking out over mountains

Here’s What Skiing Will Look Like This Year

Early fall is normally when skiers are planning their winter escapes. But if you’ve been hesitating to plan your family vacation, you’re not alone. With the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing, plenty of downhill fans are wondering whether it’s wise to book a trip—both because of safety concerns and the cancellation problems that plagued so many travelers earlier this year. 

What we’ve learned: Ski resorts have put new safety policies and procedures in place—expect to wear face coverings, practice social distancing, and even have to reserve ski days in advance. Still, you’ll want to do more research than usual to make sure you’re comfortable with the precautions. And since there may be caps on everything from lift tickets to restaurant reservations to ski lessons, it’s smart to book as far ahead as possible. 

One upside: Resorts are offering deals and incentives to lure skiers to the slopes. And they’re adjusting cancellation policies to ease traveler’s minds. 

Here’s what you can expect at some ski resorts around the U.S. this season.

Mammoth Mountain, California

The resort says it has invested $1 million in Covid-19 related enhancements. The biggest change for skiers may be there will be a cap on daily lift tickets and visitors can’t buy same-day or undated tickets.  

Lift lines are being changed to allow for social distancing, and restaurant capacity will be limited in accordance with local and state health guidelines (currently set at 50% capacity). To make up for it, grab-and-go and outdoor eating/seating options will be increased.
Face masks will be required indoors, in lift lines, gondolas, shuttles and whenever social distancing with others outside your travel group is not possible. Cancellation policies have been adjusted to provide more flexibility. 

Copper Mountain, Colorado

Some of the changes are Copper will be very visible to guests—like signs throughout the resort about guests mandatory face covering signage—and some less so, including the 24-hour gaps between lodging bookings so accommodations can be disinfected.

Most of Copper’s offerings—including lodging,  lodging, dining, rentals, lift tickets and ski school—will be limited to advanced reservations to manage volume and ensure proper physical distancing.

You’ll have to make an appointment to get fitted for rental skis. Even parking is changing— if you’re planning to visit for the day, morning or afternoon, a reservation system will be in place requiring advance notice of your arrival.

This year Copper introduced its Passholder Promise for people who have purchased a season pass or four-pack. The resort will provide vouchers if there is a long Covid-related closure. And you can get a full refund for your pass anytime before Dec. 10.

One deal families might especially like: the Buy 2 Nights, Get 1 Free + Kids Ski Free package. 

Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, California

If you want to ski in Tahoe, your best bet may be a mid-week trip. As usual, skiing midweek means shorter lift lines and  faster service. This year it also means the ability to get lift tickets at all, since same-day tickets won’t be available and advanced ticket numbers will be dynamically controlled. Right now, SVAM expects advance tickets will mostly be available midweek, though that may change as time passes.

The resort’s Worry Free Guarantee gives skiers the ability to get a full refund on lift tickets before November 3. After that, SVAM will offer partial refunds or rollovers if the ski/ride season is shortened as a result of COVID-19 closures. Season pass holders can get a credit toward a pass for next season.

At the resort, face coverings will be required in indoor spaces and anyplace outdoors where people can’t space out. Dining capacities will change, too. 

Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Vermont

Unlike other resorts, this New England escape isn’t putting any reservation system in place for lifts. “Given the space and uphill capacities we offer on our three interconnected mountains (over 1000 acres of terrain), we are offering unrestricted lift access guaranteed with any ski and stay package,” said PR director Mike Chait. “We want our customers to know that we are confident the measures we have in place are sufficient to keep them safe.”

One exception to the no-reservations approach: swimming pools, which must be booked in advance. Smugglers’ is limiting numbers for group activities—but to make up for it, they’re also adding more frequency.

The resort is also offering private family lessons this winter, so you can ski and ride together, with coaches who can handle multiple disciplines and ability levels at once.

The Winter Experience package bundles activities outside of downhill skiing and snowboarding and includes options like mountaintop snowshoeing tours, Nordic skiing, fat biking, ice skating and more.

Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

The “Champagne Powder” snow will be the same, but like other ski areas, Steamboat is implementing changes like facial coverings and social distancing. Lodges and restaurants will be reconfigured to allow more space between tables, and advance reservations will be required for all night and even some daytime dining. The resort is also exploring contactless ordering and payment systems for Steamboat restaurants.

To limit the number of skiers on the mountain, access will be limited to advance purchase packages and season passes. At peak times, there may even be specific queue times.

Families with kids under 5 will have to opt for private lessons—childcare and ski classes aren’t available this year for the smallest guests. Reservations are required for other group lessons, but they’ll be limited to five students.  it in mi

Finally, there will be no walk-in rentals—you’ll have to book fitting times. To make the process easier, you can make gear reservations while booking your ski package, and get equipment delivered to certain locations.

Big Sky Resort, Montana

Even Big Sky, with some 5,850 acres of skiable terrain, will be managing skier volume this season.

All lifts, carpets, and the Lone Peak Tram will run as planned this winter. But lift queues and mazes will be set up for social distancing, and single lines are out.

Facial coverings will be mandatory for all guests while in lift queues, loading, riding, and unloading lifts.

As for food, on-mountain and village dining establishments have been revamped to allow more space, and every eatery will have grab-and-go and takeout options—as well as online ordering for some.
Group lessons and kids’ classes will still take place this winter, and private lessons come with guaranteed lift ticket availability for the day of your session.

The resort also has a new program called Early Access, which will allow guests to load the Ramcharger 8 lift at 8 a.m., an hour before public access, to get a head start on the ski day—and reduce congestion later on.

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a freelance writer specializing in travel, personal finance and business.