When COVID-19 incited an abrupt closure of ski resorts last March, it wasn’t clear how this viral bogeyman managed to spark outbreaks from the Tetons to Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain. Eight months later, it is. Knowing that the novel coronavirus prefers slinking through crowded indoor spaces to the great outdoors, the ski industry has been able to pivot to a season that delivers a safe — albeit nuanced — experience. What will that look like?
While skiers can carve up the bowls and schuss down powder-dusted mountains, new protocols address those bottleneck moments in between. To wit: face covering required on lifts, in lines and in all indoor public spaces (except when seated to eat), socially distanced gondola load-in, spaced-apart lift lines, reimagined on-mountain dining, and the absence of a boisterous indoor après scene. Since resorts will be managing capacity, pre-booking is essential to lock in select dates. As for lodging, while some are content with a traditional hotel setting, many prefer a condo or private home where public lobbies and crowded restaurants can be avoided. This is all happy news. In a year filled with restrictions, the fact that a ski season will unfold in any capacity is thrilling.
Aspen Snowmass, Colorado
Opening Date: November 26
Though Veuve-slicked table dancing at Cloud 9 may be on hold, Aspenites are confident that their alpine playground will still deliver ski season essentials: powder and glamour. While there is no reservation system per se, capacity limitations means first come, first served. So to secure preferred dates, lift tickets should be purchased well in advance of a visit.
To allow for a contactless experience, Aspen Snowmass Account Portal and the Aspen Snowmass App will manage lift tickets, ski school, rentals, and food ordering. Restaurants will be operating at 50% capacity both indoors and outdoors. On-mountain eateries — Ullrhof, Elk Camp, High Alpine at Snowmass, Merry-Go-Round at Aspen Highlands, and the Sundeck at Aspen Mountain — will have additional seating in enclosed heated tents for maximum distancing. For those who wish to eat outdoors, picnic tables will be scattered about.
For après, French Alpine Bistro is winterizing its outdoor space with heaters and fur pelts, and The Little Nell will introduce a slopeside wine bar, complete with DJ (behind a Plexiglass partition), private booth, and couch seating areas.
The Gant Aspen | This compound of stylish COVID-era-friendly condos (you don’t need to pass through a lobby or use an elevator) at the base of Aspen Mountain offers a homey setting coupled with hotel amenities like housekeeping, concierge, ski storage, and a complimentary shuttle service to run you around town.
Opening Date: November 20
This year, reservations are required to access Vail’s celebrated maze of groomers and back bowls. While daily lift tickets will be issued (sold only online and tightly regulated), Epic Pass holders will have priority, leaving slim pickings for those attempting a last-minute trip. To lock in dates, invest in a pass, whether for the season, a day, or a week. An additional perk to pass holders is access to exclusive early-season skiing (Nov. 20-Dec. 8). Other modifications: The resort will be cashless, seating will be reduced at restaurants, and chairlift rides will be limited to riders in the same party. In Vail Village, the pelt-strewn deck of Alpenrose will be an après hot spot. (Hopefully not that kind of hot spot.)
The Arrabelle | Just steps from the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead, the Arrabelle Hotel has a European feel. It offers airy hotel rooms as well as condos (1-5 bedrooms) tricked out with fireplaces and amenities like a rooftop pool and ski valet to warm your boots in the morning and whisk your gear away at the end of the day.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Opening Date: November 26
Here, locals are imagining COVID-era skiing to resemble the 80’s, when the resort was populated primarily by ski bums. To their chagrin, safety protocols will not keep tourists from flocking to Jackson Hole. Its steeps, chutes, and 2,500 acres of thigh-burning terrain are simply too enticing.
For the first time in its 55-year history, JHMR will require advance day ticket purchases for sale online, to cap daily capacity. To further control flow, lift lines will be redesigned for enhanced physical distancing, and lower mountain chairs (Teewinot and Après Vous and Sweetwater Gondola) will load earlier than usual in order to get guests up the mountain and allow for physical distancing. Another safety measure will be strategically placed thermal imaging cameras to check guest temperatures. In regard to dining, there will be limited indoor seating for food and beverage, and QR codes will be employed for ordering by phone. In Teton Village, après will unfold at Bodega’s new tented beer garden. Another option is to gather après essentials from Il Villaggio Osteria to enjoy in your lodging.
Caldera House | Private ski valet? Massive suites outfitted with Boffi kitchens, Axel Vervoordt furniture, and a firepit-flanked balcony? Heated bathroom floors, steam showers, and soaking tubs? This tony eight-suite property (which also offers custom experiences like backcountry heli-ski and off-the-grid powder packages) just 50 steps from the Jackson Hole Mountain tram in Teton Village, is the perfect alpine perch
Deer Valley, Utah
Opening Date: December 5
Pandemic or not, white-glove service is still on offer at Deer Valley. Complimentary Mountain Host ski tours, daily ski races at the NASTAR course on Bald Mountain, and curbside valet to unload equipment will still be available, along with signature perks (ski concierge, grocery deliveries, stylish après scene) that come with staying at one of the resort’s luxurious ski-in/ski-out hotels.
This season, advance purchase of lift tickets is required unless you have a Season or Ikon pass. Walk-up, day-of tickets will not be sold. Masks will be mandatory when interacting with Deer Valley staff, waiting in line, riding, loading and unloading chairlifts, and at all times indoors (unless actively eating or drinking while seated at a table). Lift lines will be spaced and chairlift occupancy limited to those in the same party.
In terms of on-mountain dining, day lodge cafeterias — Snow Park, Silver Lake, and Empire Canyon — will require reservations. Guests can pre-order grab-and-go options through an app, to pick up outside of the aforementioned eateries, and can be eaten inside heated tents or at outdoor decks tricked out with firepits and heaters. As always, the après scene will be chic but mellow. Best bets: EBS Lounge, the luxe Après Lounge yurt at the Montage, and Troll Hallen Lounge at Stein Eriksen.
Stein Eriksen | With roaring fireplaces (to sip glögg, naturally), wraparound views of the Wasatch Mountains, and standout ski valet services, this mid-mountain, Norwegian-inspired property hits all of the alpine high notes. Go for the suites, which have full kitchens and balconies (some with hot tub). Or, for more space, the super-sleek condos.
For inquiries about booking the right ski passes and places, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author and travel journalist Amy Tara Koch (@amytarakoch) writes for the New York Times, WSJ, Condé Nast Traveler and other publications.