But with face coverings already part of the gear and social distancing possible outdoors on the slopes, skiing and snowboarding may be relatively COVID-friendly outdoor options this winter.
Vail Resorts, which owns the Stevens Pass ski area, announced plans in August to reopen in December, with restrictions.
Most notably: You need a reservation to hit the slopes.
Stevens is limiting the number of people allowed on the mountain each day. That number is a moving target and will change based on the weather, how much terrain is open on the mountain and what phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan King County is in.
But you’re not out of luck if you can’t commit to a pass. As long as you plan ahead, you’ll be able to visit the resort, general manager Tom Pettigrew said.
“It’s a very different season we’re facing,” he said. “But … there should be very few days you can’t get a reservation.”
The mountain likely won’t reach capacity early in the season, on weekdays or even during the average weekend. Holidays and powder days in peak season might be trickier.
If you’re just buying a daily lift ticket, those become available on a week-of basis.
Pass holders have priority on week-of tickets and access to seven reserved days anytime during the season.
As of late September, demand for passes at all Vail resorts had risen 18%. But overall sales dollars decreased by 4% due to redeemed credits for the 2019-20 season, when the Stevens Pass shut down due to COVID-19.
The resort’s lodges will follow the same state- and county-mandated restrictions as restaurants, Pettigrew said. Table seating will allow for social distancing, and capacity may be capped at the door.
The menus will change to more of a grab-and-go style, “where people can just get something hot and get back out onto the snow,” Pettigrew said.
Skiers and snowboarders will also be required to wear face coverings, abide physical distancing rules and consent to health screenings when distancing isn’t possible, as in ski school.
“It’s important to us to create an environment that’s safe for our employees and our guests,” Pettigrew said.
Riders will need to wear face coverings on chairlifts, inside buildings and during lessons. Those without coverings won’t be allowed on the mountain.
On chairlifts, only guests skiing or riding together can sit next to each other. Otherwise, two people will be on opposite sides of lift chairs and gondola cabins.
The standing team and lift operators who normally manage lines may be tasked with enforcing social distancing and face covering requirements.
“It’s our expectation that you’ll adhere to the guidelines,” Pettigrew said.
The rental shops will be open. They’re considered retail operations, so “Safe Start” rules apply. Right now, that means shops are at 30% capacity, but that could change by December.
If you’re riding all season long or headed to the mountain just for a day, Pettigrew said, keep a few things in mind, beyond wearing a face covering:
• The resort is moving to cashless transactions, so bring a credit card.
• You need to make a reservation and buy your pass ahead of time online. If you already have a season pass or a daily lift ticket — that’s pre-loaded. You can pick up your pass or ticket at the resort’s window, but you cannot purchase a ticket there.
• Most importantly: “Make sure it snowed,” Pettigrew said. Weather dependent, opening day is set for Dec. 4.