It’s only the beginning of August, but in a normal year, we would already be talking about season passes and great deals for early season skiing and snowboarding only a few short months away. But, as we all know, this is 2020 and things are a bit different amid travel concerns and the enduring COVID-19 pandemic.
Traditionally, ski resort operators would have rolled out reduced season pricing immediately following spring skiing, in preparation for the upcoming season. But when COVID-19 shut down nearly every North American ski resort by early April, most promotions were put on hold while operators tried to wait out the virus. In the end, not a single ski resort reopened for a significant period of time, and the 2019-20 ski season was finished.
The aftermath left plenty of questions about how to honor season passes that were cut short in 2019-20, and how the ski industry would be altered for the upcoming 2020-21 season. In recent months, news about the upcoming season was sparse as operators weighed public uncertainty over travel, gathering in groups, a slew of economic factors and whether ski resorts would even open at all this season. … All this before a single flake of snow has fallen in the high country.
And here we are.
Luckily, things are starting to shake out and we’re beginning to get some clear direction on what the 2020-21 ski season might look like. SkierDeals.com will continue to monitor the situation closely for you over the next 100 days as we close in on the North American ski season. Here’s what we know right now:
Vail Resorts is the largest ski resort operator in North America, overseeing major resorts like Breckenridge and Vail in Colorado and Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia. The operator’s popular Epic Pass, which is typically offered at a discounted price in the spring, has extended its discount through Labor Day this season.
The Epic Pass has incorporated some new features for the upcoming season in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and added a new “Epic Coverage” feature for each pass purchased. Epic Coverage provides protection for injury, job loss and certain resort closures (e.g COVID-19).
Skiers who didn’t get to use their 2019-20 Epic Pass to the fullest can earn credit this season through the new Passholder Credit plan. Epic pass holders from last season can receive up to 80% credit to put toward a pass for this season. (The credit is based on the number of days you used your pass last season).
The always-popular Epic Rewards feature with every Epic Pass purchase includes 20 percent off a slew of amenities, including food and beverages at select locations, choice lodging, ski school, ski rentals, activities like heli-skiing and Cat skiing. Passholders also get 20 percent off all Epic Mountain Express transportation.
The Epic Day Pass and Epic Local Pass are back this season, too. All passes can be reserved for only $49 online right now. Keep in mind, pricing for the Epic Pass may increase as we get closer to the season, so buy now!
Alterra Mountain Company, the No. 2 ski operator in North America behind Vail Resorts, is offering skiers what is called “Adventure Assurance” for the upcoming season. Skiers can convert their unused ski days from 2020-21 to use during the 2021-22 season instead. This feature could come in handy if resorts are forced to close for all or part of next winter because of COVID-19 or something similar.
The Ikon Pass gives skiers access to 43 unique ski destinations worldwide with no blackout dates for only $199 down and the remainder due just before the start of the season. The Ikon Base Pass unlocks 41 destinations with limited blackout dates, and the Ikon Session Pass is a great option for skiers and snowboarders who only want four days on the mountain.
Both Alterra and Vail Resorts have implemented disinfection protocols to suppress the spread of any virus since the outbreak of COVID-19. In addition to new cleaning standards, dining tables at restaurants have been spaced further apart to provide appropriate space. However, a big part of how to operate this winter is yet to be determined and will depend on the prevailing virus conditions and new information that is uncovered in the coming months leading to the ski season.
Masks and face coverings have long been a fixture at mountain ski resorts, so expect to see more of the same this season. While traveling, anticipate restaurants and other gathering places to have social distancing standards in place and limit the number of people in an enclosed space.
Skiing is naturally conducive to social distancing because there’s usually lots of room and plenty of fresh air on the mountain. As a Rule of Thumb, it’s okay to mingle within your group, but it is still recommended that you maintain appropriate social distance and wear a face mask when possible. In public, it’s important to respect everyone’s personal space at the resort. Ski resorts may request that you stay within your group and only ride on chairlifts or gondolas with members of your immediate party. When riding the gondola, crack a vent or window to allow fresh air to flow into the cabin.
High risk areas at a ski resort might include a popular restaurant or gathering place when skiers can warm up. Keep an eye out for indoor spaces with lots of people, especially when there is food and drink because that’s when face coverings are removed. Thankfully, food delivery and catering services are on the rise in ski towns, and many accommodations have full kitchens so you can prepare private, no-risk meals with your group.
While air travel remains operational at the present time, it’s unsure how the coming season will be affected by COVID-19. If airports can operate close to full capacity, that would help attendance numbers considerably. This season, experts are predicting more skiers may travel by car to their favorite ski resort and avoid the airport altogether.
Limited air travel could benefit smaller, regional ski resorts – if they are able to open for operations this winter.
Many independent ski resorts received assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) during the pandemic to help make ends meet and pay staff. While the big-league operators like Alterra and Vail Resorts are too big to qualify for federal stimulus loans, independent resorts were able to collect millions and protect more than 900 jobs. At least 10 of Colorado’s smallest ski areas together received at least $5 million, and as much as $12.7 million, in federal loans. Colorado ski resorts like Granby Ranch, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Echo, Sunlight and Wolf Creek qualified for PPP loans. The money was to pay workers for projects, renovations and protective measures in preparation for the coming season.
Right now, Australia is in the middle of its ski season. Ski resorts in New South Wales are currently operating at about 50 percent capacity with social distancing requirements in effect. On the other end of the spectrum, ski resorts in nearby Victoria closed less than a week after the season began due to a government-mandated coronavirus lock down.