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What Will Skiing Look Like During The Winter Season?


November 6, 2020
Categories: Safety, Health, Travel Tips

Coronavirus hit hard in March, abruptly ending the 2019-20 ski season. In Colorado, the first COVID-19 hot spots were in Eagle and Pitkin counties, home to resorts including Vail and Aspen.

Across the globe, the pandemic wreaked havoc on several ski resorts. Australia partly closed Kosciuszko National Park at the start of the ski season in June to limit the number of visitors and allow more time for COVID-19 preparation.

In August, UK residents returning from a trip to the Austrian Alps were required to quarantine for 14 days because Austria saw a 93% rise in cases. Ischgl, an Austrian ski resort, was known as a COVID-19 super spreader after hundreds of cases in six European countries were traced back to the resort.

What will skiing look like during the 2020-21 ski season?

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) is calling the winter season the year of “Know Before You Go.” Many mountain ski areas are limiting the number of skiers and boarders each day with first-come-first-served reservation systems giving priority to season pass holders.

Old School Skiing

Pre-coronavirus, après ski at the lodge was almost as important as a day on the mountain. During the coronavirus pandemic, there will be more focus on the sport and less focus on the post-slope parties.

This season might seem “old school” to younger skiers and recognizable to older ones. Resort skiers might be putting on ski boots in the parking lot and tailgating with a small group instead of dining at the lodge’s restaurant.

Many resorts will have a different look and feel with Plexiglas dividers at point-of-sale locations; six feet (the length of skis) social distancing in lift lines; expanded outdoor seating, covered and heated where possible; and on-hill snack shacks with grab-and-go food options.

At Copper Mountain in Colorado, employees issue friendly reminders to follow protocol over loudspeakers at scheduled intervals during the day.

Restaurants and hotels will follow the state’s rules for occupancy and most sporting events are cancelled. Even though the mega-resorts might be at half capacity, some travelers might not feel comfortable with 15,000 rooms and switch to a smaller resort with less people. Or United Kingdom residents may drive to a closer resort in Scotland, if the snow is good, instead of flying to Switzerland or France.

Some things won’t change. Skiers are used to wearing face masks or balaclavas on the slopes to protect themselves from wind and cold. Leaving it on inside for protection from the coronavirus is a no-brainer.

Outdoor activities already have a lower risk of coronavirus exposure than indoor activities and you’ll be goggled, masked and gloved as you pass others on the slopes. You can even avoid crowded gondolas: Mad River Glen in Vermont and Voss Resort in Norway were already prepared for lift protocols with single chair lifts.

Pre-ski Preparation

This season, it may not be possible to show up at a ski resort after a good day of fresh powder. You’ll need to get online and pre-purchase your pass. While you have the computer in front of you, take time to research the state’s or country’s travel regulations, any quarantine or testing requirements, the resort’s COVID-19 policy and the local weather.

If you are driving, check conditions along your route and at your destination to ensure you’re not traveling through — or to — a hot spot. Global Rescue’s free Coronavirus Report includes maps with U.S. and worldwide hot spots, details on state-by-state restrictions and stay-at-home orders. You can also sign up for weekday email update alerts.

If you’re flying, make sure you are be aware of the airline’s restrictions, recommendations and rules — and how they are being enforced.

Some ski aficionado sites, like Snow Industry News and Snow-Forecast.com, detail the latest news in the ski industry, including, openings, re-openings, closings and coronavirus protection measures. It’s always best to go directly to the ski resort’s website for information direct from the source.

Late Season Bookings

Skiers are a dedicated group. If there is snow, they will want to ski.

“The ski market is quite resilient,” said Gordon Ritter, purchasing director for TUI Group Ski, Lakes and Mountains during a webinar hosted by the Mountain Travel Symposium. “Skiers are dedicated to the cause — come hell or high water they are going to have their holiday.”

But this winter, skiers may wait until they see the snow before they make plans.

“Skier perception is mixed this year,” said Dan Sherman, CMO of Ski.com. “It creates an opportunity for tour operators to help consumers find a trip that works for them.”

Even though many U.S. resorts launched pass holder programs in August and September, skiers have not yet jumped at the deals. “We haven’t hit the gas yet on this season,” Sherman said.

It’s currently a wait-and-see period while colleges and schools figure out their schedules, which dictate vacation schedules, and the world watches the level of coronavirus cases.

It will shorten booking windows for ski trips from 80 days to 14 to 21 days, a change the ski industry is prepping with offers of refundable trips.

“Consumers are not gone, they are just not booking confidently yet,” Ritter said.

A client poll by SKICAN found “the key consideration for booking is a flexible booking policy,” Nasmith said. “Clients want refund versus credit policies identified right at the get go.”

“If you are willing to book early, you’re going to get some good deals,” said Eric Rystedt, mountain travel specialist with Alpine Adventures. “Ski areas and rental companies are very flexible with their policies. But as you get closer to the trip, there is less flexibility with airlines and lodging.”

Extra Protection on the Slopes

Skiers might jump at the chance to ski at a big mountain with half the visitors, or might avoid the reservation system entirely to embrace other opportunities: backcountry, uphill, Nordic, or heli-skiing.

But only do so if you’re already an experienced backcountry skier or have the services of a local guide.

“COVID-19 is not the time to become a backcountry skier,” says Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue. “With more people going into the backcountry this season, there will be more human triggered avalanches. The risk is going up right now.”

U.S. Ski & Snowboard emphasizes the need for training.

“All of our members must complete an introduction to avalanche training,” said Tom Horrocks, digital marketing and communications manager at U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “In fact, anyone venturing into the backcountry should be educated on Know Before You Go avalanche awareness: get the gear, get the training, get the forecast, get the picture, get out of harm’s way.”

No matter where you enjoy your outdoor winter recreation, a Global Rescue travel services membership can help you travel prepared. Research your destination for coronavirus risks on the front end and be prepared on the back end in case you need an emergency medical evacuation from a remote, backcountry location.


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