Ski Resorts Adapt to an Unprecedented Season

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

At first glance, it would seem ski resorts would have little effect on coronavirus transmission rates. After all, skiing itself is by nature socially distanced and outdoors, two factors that drastically reduce coronavirus transmission. However, this is not the full story, as trips to ski resorts generally include various riskier activities, like getting to their resort, renting skis in indoor environments, waiting in line for ski lifts, dining at crowded eateries, and staying at hotels. For ski resorts to reopen, all of these have to be addressed to prevent major COVID-19 outbreaks, such as the one that occured at Austrian ski resort Ischgl in March, which is considered to be one of the main factors that fueled the first European COVID-19 outbreak.

Transportation/Travel Restrictions

The first issue with skiing this year comes before people even arrive at the resort. In normal years, many skiers fly to resorts, which puts them at risk of contracting COVID-19. . While there is little that ski resorts can do here, they have been encouraging people to drive to resorts whenever possible or to rent cars rather than take shuttles after arriving at the airport if they choose to fly.

To prevent travelers from contracting and spreading COVID-19 , over a dozen states have added mandatory quarantine and testing restrictions for out-of-state travelers. For example, Vermont requires travelers to quarantine for 14 days (or 7 days with a negative COVID test) after arriving in the state (quarantine can also be done before arriving in Vermont if you are driving in) to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Restrictions like these are relatively common, about a dozen U.S states have enforceable travel restrictions.

While these may help reduce the spread of coronavirus, they have also hurt ski resorts’ finances. This is especially the case in less populated states like Vermont, which gets 80% of its ski traffic from out-of-state.

Equipment Rentals

An estimated 80% of skiers opt to rent their skis/snowboards, poles, boots, and helmets, rather than using pre-owned equipment. Conventionally, this is done in indoor spaces where people sign waivers, get their equipment, and try it on. This year, while conventional, indoor equipment rental areas are still being offered at most resorts (with mandatory masks and social distancing in place), many are also offering a form of “equipment takeout.” In this system, you specify your shoe size, experience level, and height on the internet, or in some cases visit the resort for a pre-fitting session at a less busy time, and then your skis and other equipment will be handed to you directly at an outdoor window without any need for a fitting room.

Some independent companies have also been capitalizing on the need for a safer ski equipment rental experience. For example, “Ski Valet” companies offer to deliver ski rental equipment directly to your hotel, house, or vacation rental, and pick it up later—eliminating the need to interact with people for equipment rentals.

Ski Lifts and Lessons

Ski lifts have remained relatively normal, with capacity limitations, socially distanced lines and mask mandates being the only major differences this year. Current capacity limitations on ski lifts vary by resort, but they are usually around 25-50% of what is normally allowed, with exceptions for groups from the same household traveling on a ski lift together.

Because lift capacity has fallen, resorts are also imposing stricter limits on the number of lift tickets sold. At many places, tickets must be reserved online and in advance, and are limited to allow for social distancing.

Touchless RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) lift ticket technologies have also increased in popularity in lieu of paper lift tickets.

Ski lessons have remained mostly the same for guests, with capacity limitations and mandatory online reservations being the only major changes.

Dining and Lodging

Indoor dining is one of the main spreaders of coronavirus, because it requires people to be inside without a mask. As a result, ski resorts have gotten creative with how they’ve adapted their dining arrangements. Ski resort restaurants have implemented capacity limits for indoor restaurant dining and made it easier to eat outdoors or get takeout.

For lodging, not much has changed in terms of what is offered, although there are now restrictions like mask mandates in public spaces. However, if you’re planning a ski trip, health experts do recommend that you stay in a slopeside vacation rental rather than a hotel if possible to minimize interaction on the way to ski. This also allows for meals and pit stops to be done at a private place of lodging, rather than at the resort itself.

Despite all of these changes, demand for skiing remains as popular as ever, with even a slight increase as people opt away from other types of vacations. In any case, the 2020 ski season promises to be quite different.

Through Teen Lenses: Did you feel safe skiing during coronavirus?

“I thought [skiing during coronavirus] was pretty similar to what I would have done anyways because it was pretty cold, and so I was wearing a ski mask and I would have done that anyways. It was nice[because]everyone was required to wear a mask. And so the only thing that was different was we didn’t eat indoors, we just ate outdoors. So, and we didn’t go to any restaurants over there we just stayed and we brought our own food and we ate the apartment, but other than that wasn’t that much different than what I would have normally done.” – Jessica May, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson HS for Science and Technology
“I went skiing in Vermont, and I think there were not as many people as at the resorts that were near Virginia. Also, the employees in Vermont were really strict about the COVID guidelines. If they ever saw anyone who pulled down their mask, they would yell at them to put it back up, or they would ask them to leave…I think it [was] safe because there’s always wind on the mountain. So, even if there was [virus] in the air, it would just get blown away. Also, people would always avoid each other.” —Helen Fu, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson HS for Science and Technology
(Note: This person went to a ski resort in eastern PA) “They put in some measures [to curb coronavirus spread] but they weren’t really being followed by people and they weren’t really enforcing it. I only heard one person say to get your mask on…about 90% of people had their mask on. A couple times there were people vaping in line so that was kind of scary.” —Theo Clem, 14, Freshman at Washington Liberty HS