GRAND COUNTY, Colo. -- The gondola at Winter Park Resort is transporting mountain bikers and hikers to the top, but soon, they will be replaced by skiers and snowboarders. The summer season has been somewhat of a test run for Colorado ski resorts as they prepare for a winter with new COVID-19 guidelines.
“Definitely more planning, more sort of looking at operations and understanding how we can maintain social distancing, not necessarily on the mountain but in lift lines and lodges. Things like that," said Jen Miller, Public Relations and Communication Manager for Winter Park Resort.
There's already signs promoting social distancing and mask wearing, only related parties can ride on the gondola together - and you can expect that to continue during the ski season.
Although skiing is a solo sport, it's often about the experience and social atmosphere at the lodge or packed bar during après ski. Current capacity restrictions will force resorts to limit the number of people inside dining halls and you can expect to see a lot of prepackaged options for food.
"That part is what will perhaps look the most different, we are working on contactless payment options, we’re trying to provide grab-and-go food and beverage options, so those things are still available, but sit down dining will be limited," said Miller.
Reservations for Vail Resorts
If you want to try the hottest new restaurant in town, you better make a reservation - and you'll need to make another to ski as well. Vail Resorts made headlines last week when CEO Rob Katz announced a reservation system that gives priority to pass holders. You'll also need a pass if you want to ski during the early season because pass holders will get exclusive access to resorts through Dec. 7.
If you have an Epic pass, you'll be able to make seven reservations at the beginning of the season. These are called "Priority Reservation Days" and the idea is to allow people to lock in specific days for a trip. As priority days are used, you can continue to book additional days. Pass holders can also make week-of reservations throughout the season depending on availability.
"We believe the vast majority of the days anyone can ski who wants to ski, but when you have an unexpected powder day come up, we don’t want the crowds to be there like there would be in prior years, we need to manage our capacity for the lift lines, for our dining areas and in other spots," said Ryan Huff, Vail Resorts Communications Director.
Huff said capacity will be limited on the mountain, but when asked what it would be limited to, he said they are still working out those exact numbers.
While reservations will be required at all of 34 North American resorts on the Epic Pass, it remains to be seen if other resorts will follow suit. Winter Park Resort, which is part of the Ikon Pass, is not doing reservations at this time, but according to Miller, it hasn't been ruled out either.
"We are looking at every scenario that is available to us because, again, we just don’t have all the answers still, so we’re looking at those things; our plans right now is to not do that but if circumstances change and we have to adjust, then we’ll look at that," said Miller.
Reassurance after an abrupt end to the 2019-2020 season
The ski season came to a grinding halt in mid-March, just as Spring Break travelers were descending on mountain towns across the state. Governor Jared Polis issued an unprecedented executive order that forced ski areas to close in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The abrupt closure angered travelers and season pass holders who shelled out big bucks in hopes of enjoying some time on the slopes. In an effort to make amends and give people peace of mind, many passes now have additional protections in place.
The Epic Pass made their Epic Coverage plan available to all pass holders for free. A full or prorated refund will be offered if resorts are forced to close due to COVID-19. Pass holders will also be able to get a refund if they are unable to get Priority Reservation Days by Dec. 7 and the pass has not been used yet.
"We want to have a ski season, we want to open on time, we want to stay open," said Huff.
The Ikon Pass has a similar program that's called Adventure Assurance. If you don't end up using the Ikon Pass, you can apply the purchase price to a new pass during the 2021-2022 season.
"We put in some things so that people have more confidence because it’s hard to say, there’s a lot of unknowns but we’ve tried to accommodate that," said Miller.
Loveland Ski Area has made a promise to skiers and riders by guaranteeing 130 days of operation during the 2020-2021 season. A prorated credit will be offered on season passes if the ski area is unable to operate due to a mandated closure or stay-at-home order related to COVID-19.
"At this point, the only thing we can say with any certainty is that this season is going to be… different. Some changes will be very minor while others will be more impactful, but each will help us remain open for skiing and snowboarding," said Dustin Schaefer in a recent press release from Loveland.