For most slopes in America, November signals the start of ski and snowboard season. Millions of travelers make their way to the mountains every winter dreaming of fresh powder.
But, of course, things aren’t so certain this year. Between coronavirus cases climbing, health concerns and travel restrictions, would-be skiers and snowboarders may find it difficult to venture out.
David Beuther, a Denver-based pulmonologist at National Jewish Health who plans to take a ski trip this season, says families may have to navigate these issues all winter, even with this week’s hopeful news of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. “Overall, I don’t think there’s going to be a substantial change or relief of the pandemic during the next ski season.”
However, there is some good news.
“Skiing is such a low-risk activity, and it’s a low transmission activity,” says Darcy Selenke, the medical director of Grand County Public Health and staff physician for Denver Health at the base of Winter Park Resort. “People naturally socially distance when they ski. It’s pretty hard to ski consistently within six feet of anybody.”
For those who do decide to plan a ski or snowboarding trip this winter, here are ways to reduce coronavirus-related health risks.
Choose a lower-risk destination
Beuther says the safest option is to stay home this winter. However, choosing a ski destination carefully may lower coronavirus risks for those heading out.
“This pandemic is going to be up and down in different areas of the country,” he says. “A general ground rule is to always be looking at the rates of disease … locally in that county or that ski resort town, and also where you are.”
Keep in mind that the mountain destinations with small year-round populations are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks.
“With the last significant increase in cases of covid across the U.S., there’s always a little bit of angst and anxiousness about inviting people from all over the U.S. and potentially the world into your small resort town with sometimes limited resources,” Selenke says.
Selenke adds that any traveler with a suspected coronavirus infection should avoid going on a ski trip, not only to avoid spreading the virus to the local community, but also because of the risk of getting more sick being in high altitude. “That’s going to make your underlying infection worse,” she says.
Avoid crowds, from rental shops to après ski
Beuther is concerned people may think that because they’re going to a remote destination, they’ll forget about standard covid-19 precautions, particularly around other travelers.
If you’re not bringing your own gear, make sure to plan ahead with crowds in mind. “You can rent your gear ahead of time at a smaller mom-and-pop shop, or get it before so you’re not stuck in some massive line,” Beuther says.
At Vail Resorts, which operates 34 North American resorts, on-mountain dining will be available. However, staff will be managing capacity and crowd flow through the restaurants. Bars will only offer takeaway drinks to encourage customers to keep their distance.
“It just won’t be like the sort of crowded bar scene that maybe people have been used to over the past couple of years,” says Johnna Muscente, director of communications for Vail Resorts.
National Ski Patrol executive director Meegan Moszynski hopes that visitors will follow social distancing requirements not only for their safety, but to keep the season going according to plan.
“We have, as an industry, put in a ton of time and effort working collaboratively to put safety policies and procedures in place,” Moszynski says. “The biggest piece of advice I have for people is to respect the rules and protocols [of] your area. Because we all want to go skiing and … we want to stay open. The sport is supposed to be fun, and we want everyone to be safe and respectful.”
Book accommodations with space — and eating — in mind
For Beuther’s ski trip, his family will stay at a condominium instead of a hotel. A condo can help travelers reduce contact with strangers and allow families to prepare meals themselves. “We’re going to bring our own food, and we’re going to eat in the condo instead of going out to the restaurants,” Beuther says.
Selenke recommends others to do the same.
“We would encourage people to drive and pick up groceries, to plan on eating at wherever they’re staying,” she says. “Everyone just needs to plan not having après ski at a restaurant.”
If you’re traveling with people outside of your household, Beuther recommends staying in separate places and only spending time with each other outdoors.
Get lift tickets well in advance
Throughout the pandemic, the ski and snowboard industry has been actively preparing for the winter season with the coronavirus in mind. One noticeable change this year is the ticketing process. Many ski resorts are requiring prior reservations to better manage crowd sizes.
“Some of the resorts are only selling their day tickets in advance online,” says Anelise Bergin, director of digital marketing and communications for Ski Utah, adding that some resorts may also be reducing parking capacity to limit guests. “Really plan out your trip and make sure that you look at the specific resort that you’re looking to travel to, and make sure that you completely understand all of their changes and their ticket process."
Although capacity may be reduced at resorts, you should still be able to lock in your ski or snowboard time this winter.
“For the vast majority of days, we think that we’ll be able to accommodate everyone who wants to be there,” Muscente says. “But you really have to plan for every day.”
Travel during the pandemic: