What to Expect: COVID-19 & the 2021-22 Ski Season

With the snow falling and ski guns pumping, all eyes are shifting towards the second full ski season under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A view of the town and highways stretching through the mountains in Vail.

Vail, Colorado. Photo by Katie Musial

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Note: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the United States and abroad, resort policies—as well as federal, state, and local guidelines and requirements—are likely to continue evolving; consult each directly for up-to-date information. The content below may include opinion and commentary from the author. Ensure you are up to date by following official resources such as cdc.gov and official state and local accounts and websites.

Winter ‘21-22 is right around the corner. Flakes are flying across the West, snow guns are pumping on both coasts (maybe just for testing out East, but still!), and here at Curated, we’re seeing an uptick in skiers looking to snag their latest setup.

It’s about time!

But not so fast—there’s still some housekeeping to take care of before we all get out on the mountain, especially as we enter the second full winter in the shadow of the COVID pandemic and resulting guidelines and policies.

Resort access looks a little different from last year, where reservations and face coverings were the standard. And here, we’ll take a look at what to expect on the mountain—in particular, at the destinations on the two powerhouse passes, Epic and IKON. We expect that, for the most part, most resorts across the country will follow similar guidelines in some shape or form. However, the best way to be sure is to check with them directly!

How ‘21-22 will differ from ‘20-21

Already, a few differences are emerging, which should make it easier to access resorts and accompanying facilities. We’re seeing many ski resorts across the country lay out their vision for Winter ‘21-22 (subject to changing federal and state guidelines, of course), which will continue to include indoor masking, dining reservations, and more.

Epic Pass

Notably, Vail’s Epic Pass has already announced that a lift reservation system will not be in effect, and masks will be required in indoor settings, but not outdoors, in lift lines, or on chairlifts or gondolas.

From the Epic Pass website:

Mountain Access We will not have a mountain reservation system this season and will load lifts and gondolas at normal capacity, optimizing guest movement around our resorts.

Face Coverings Face coverings will be required in indoor settings, including in our restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, and retail and rental locations, and on buses. Face coverings will not be required outdoors, in lift lines, or on chairlifts or gondolas, unless required by local public health authorities

Read more about Epic Pass access here.

IKON Pass

IKON Pass resorts appear to be less uniform, noting that: Reservation requirements and decisions for winter 21/22 are determined by each individual Ikon Pass destination based on local conditions and in order to enhance the guest experience.

Note that Jackson Hole and Taos will be requiring IKON Pass lift reservations, which can be made starting October 21, 2021. For more on IKON access, visit their website and FAQ here.

To learn more about your local ski resort’s access guidelines, check with them directly, as state and local guidelines may impact access details.

What does this mean for skiing this winter?

Skis are packed in next to each other on a stand outside in the snow.

Photo by Boris Misevic

Well, it means that, in theory, it should be easier to get on the slopes this season, which is a good thing! Last year’s reservation system meant that you weren’t guaranteed the days you wanted in some cases, and made day-of decisions difficult at some resorts.

However, some resorts may choose to limit walk-up lift ticket sales. While this is commonplace at many resorts today (especially during peak weekends like President’s Day), it may be a “lever” resorts choose to pull to limit overall crowds while ensuring there’s room for season pass holders.

This year, it’s shaping up to be much easier to show up and ski without having to give advance notice. Plus, requiring masks for indoor use only will be welcome to many, though face masks, neck gaiters, and balaclavas are already something of a standard-issue for skiers these days.

You’ll still need a face covering at many resorts when indoors, and social distancing and safety measures will continue to be commonplace.

Will the slopes be packed this year?

Short answer: definitely.

Since the pandemic began, outdoor activity interest has shot through the roof, with record numbers of Americans visiting national parks, taking up new outdoor hobbies, and buying up gear at lightning speeds.

Pair this with widespread work from home, and what do you get?

Cabin fever (or “shack wacky” as our northern neighbors say).

Don’t expect to see empty slopes anytime soon. Skiing is a near-ideal pandemic activity, and travel continues to rebound with a vengeance across the country. That being said, some resorts are already committing to running more lifts more frequently to help disperse crowds and encourage distancing, though your local mountain may vary.

How can I avoid the crowds?

A chairlift takes skiers and snowboarders up the slope.

Photo by Jeremy Bezange

That depends—how much vacation time do you have?

In all seriousness, like last year, expect to see holidays and weekends jam-packed across the board. This isn’t new, but today’s overall magnitude of skiing interest will continue making these spikes more intense.

If you’re really looking to beat the crowds, midweek turns are the ticket. You’ll have to contend with vacationers in town for the week, but overall, you’ll be able to steer clear of the weekend warriors and carve a little bigger slice of paradise for yourself.

If you’re really, really looking to beat the crowds, weekday afternoons are going to be your best bet. Now that scoring opening chair and first tracks are the norm, by the time these commandos have downed a hot dog (or two) and a beer for lunch, skiing until 4 PM’s last chair seems like a herculean task—especially when the hot tub starts calling and your trapped-in-ski-boot feet want to answer.

Is my car still my lodge?

Cars are parked in a parking lot and are piled with snow.

Photo by Dylan Luder

All those #VanLife vans are going to come in handy again this year, giving you a warm, comfy basecamp for the day.

Last year’s mantra of “treat your car like your lodge,” was intended to promote social distancing in resort base areas and limit traffic inside buildings, which are notoriously congested at ski hills.

We’ve seen some resorts come out with similar guidelines, noting that bags won’t be welcome in lodges (at some resorts), and encouraging skiers to boot up at their cars. While this may be an inconvenience for some, especially families with younger children, overall, it may just be a small price to pay for largely unfettered access to the slopes.

Besides, who doesn’t love stashing a few brews in the snowbank to crack open for parking lot apres?

Ok, but what about the actual lodge—will they be open?

Looking to grab that logo sweatshirt at the resort you’re visiting, or hoping to grab some food after a long day of shredding? Well, while you will likely need to mask up indoors, you should be in luck.

At Epic Pass locations, for example, “guests will be required to book a reservation to eat at many of [their] on-mountain restaurants using [their] Time to Dine reservation service.”

And while reservations may not be required at every resort’s dining options across the country, expect to see some sort of capacity limitation and possible mask requirements.

Overall, there’s never been a time to grab a drink on the patio and work on that goggle tan— just don’t forget the sunscreen, those high-altitude sunburns are brutal!

What about backcountry skiing?

Looking to escape the crowds and earn your turns? Backcountry skiing may be an exciting alternative. In fact, across Curated last year, interest in backcountry ski gear (lighter, fatter skis; alpine touring binds; tech boots) was way up.

Just remember, if you decide to try out backcountry skiing, stay safe and make sure you know before you go.

Want to learn more? Not sure where to start?

First things first, for all questions about resort access, policies, and guidelines, it’s best to contact your resort directly. Federal, state, and local guidelines are all fluid as COVID evolves, meaning policies today may change tomorrow.

If you have a trip (or three) planned, it’s worth checking in periodically to make sure you have the scoop on what to expect. Similarly, check with your lodging accommodations to understand and policies they have, too, like limited breakfast or hot tub reservations (that’s a real thing!).

As you get closer to your trip and need some new gear to make the most of it, make sure to sync up with a Curated Ski Expert, who will get you set up and ready to shred.

Start doing your snow dances, and we’ll see you in Winter ‘21-22!

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Written By
Matt B.
Matt B.
Ski Expert
Back in middle school, I dragged my dad to my school ski club's intro meeting to learn more. I'd be lapping a tiny Southeast Michigan hill with a whopping 350' vert, but man it sounded fun. Unfortunately younger me didn't take the chance, because when my parents said I'd have to kick in half of my a...
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