New England’s ski areas will look a bit different this winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a blast skiing and riding your favorite downhill runs and backcountry trails.
Many of New England’s ski areas closed abruptly last March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving disappointed skiers and snowboarders to wonder if they would ever be able to hit the slopes again safely. With most area ski resorts open again for the 2021 season, here are a few things to keep in mind before you buy your next lift ticket, as well as some changes to look for at the resorts.
Check Local Travel Restrictions
Until there is a COVID-19 vaccine widely available, it’s likely that travel restrictions and quarantine requirements will continue to be updated on a regular basis by local and state governments. Before you make plans for a ski weekend or vacation, check the official tourism website for the New England state you’ll be visiting for information regarding travelers arriving from the state where you live. Travel rules for residents of each state generally depend on the positive COVID-19 test rate in that state. In the case of Vermont, rules and restrictions for out-of-state visitors depend on the positive test rate in the county, rather than the state, where they live.
Travel restrictions may also vary depending on the amount of time you plan to spend in the state you’re visiting. If you’re planning to stay overnight, for example, you might need to follow different rules than you would if you were returning home the same day.
Book Online Before You Leave Home
To avoid having customers stand in long lines and to restrict contact between customers and employees, many New England resorts now require guests to purchase lift tickets, rentals, and lessons online prior to their arrival. If you need to rent equipment, you will probably have to book an appointment at the resort’s rental shop before you arrive as well. Because class sizes have been greatly reduced at some resorts, the same rule generally applies to booking ski and snowboard lessons.
Make sure to take a look at the resort’s refund policy before you pay for anything. In the event that they are forced to close again this season, some resorts are offering credit toward future purchases rather than cash refunds. In some cases, this applies to both season pass and day pass holders.
Make Reservations Early
If you already know when you want to go skiing, get online and reserve your lift passes now. Nearly all New England ski resorts have lowered their overall capacities, making it less likely that you’ll be able to buy a pass if you wait too long.
Follow New Safety Protocols
Before you arrive at the resort, make sure you know what to expect around social distancing and face coverings—and plan accordingly. Masks are now mandatory at many resorts both indoors and outdoors unless guests are eating or drinking. Most chairlifts and gondolas are operating at a restricted capacity to enable social distancing, meaning more space between riders, which means possibly longer wait times.
Avoid Indoor Facilities
Because skiing and snowboarding are outdoor sports with individual participants usually staying a good distance apart from one another, they are fairly safe activities from a COVID-19 perspective. But that same margin of safety doesn’t apply to a resort’s indoor facilities or crowded outdoor areas, like snack bars. In order to reduce the risk of catching the virus, some public health experts are recommending that guests avoid using indoor facilities completely and instead opt to bring their own food and change in their cars, using their vehicles as portable ski lodges.
If you still want to use a resort’s ski lodge, note that although most ski area restaurants and bars will be open, their capacities will be limited. The same goes for restrooms and lodge facilities like locker rooms. Some amenities, like hot tubs, pools, and saunas, may be closed altogether or require advance reservations.
Try a Backcountry Trail
Over the past several years, backcountry skiing has become increasingly popular. It can be exhilarating to climb a mountain under your own power and ski down in solitude, but these areas are also ungroomed and unpatrolled. Backcountry skiing presents a different set of dangers than the virus. While backcountry skiing is definitely not recommended for inexperienced skiers, it can be a good option for experts who want to try something new while avoiding contact with large groups of people.
If you decide to try a backcountry route, choose a mountain you’re familiar with and adopt the same sort of precautions that a hiker would, including checking weather reports, letting someone know where you’ll be, and carrying a map, compass, and portable GPS unit. If the route you’ll be skiing poses an avalanche risk, be sure to also bring avalanche safety gear (beacon, probe, and shovel) and make sure you know how to use them. Guidebooks such as Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski Tours in New England and New York by David Goodman (Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2020) and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s website (outdoors.org) are also good sources of information.
Use Your Best Judgment
When it comes to keeping yourself safe from exposure to COVID-19, your own judgment is perhaps your best tool. If a situation or specific area seems unsafe to you or makes you uncomfortable, you’re better off avoiding it, even if it might mean changing your plans altogether. New England’s ski resorts will be around long after COVID-19 is finally brought under control. You want to make sure that you’ll be around to enjoy them.
Mountain Updates at New England Ski Areas
Berkshire East Mountain Resort
Located in the heart of the Berkshires in Charlemont, Massachusetts, Berkshire East is locally owned and bills itself as being a less-crowded alternative to larger resorts in northern New England. In response to COVID-19, the resort has moved much of its operation outdoors, including its dining facilities. To make the outdoor experience more enjoyable, Berkshire East has installed outdoor heaters and fire pits and has built 50 heated cabanas that can each accommodate up to six people from the same household. Lift tickets, lessons, and rentals must be booked online. The resort is urging people to arrive “prepared to ski,” as indoor space will be at a premium.
Stowe Mountain Resort
One of Vermont’s largest and most popular ski areas, Stowe Mountain Resort has made a number of changes to help keep skiers and riders safer. Among them are an online reservation system that limits the number of people at the resort at any one time, social-distancing requirements on chairlifts and gondolas, face-covering requirements for anyone over the age of three, strict capacity limits in dining areas, and a policy that requires all on-site transactions to be cashless. Stowe is also encouraging skiers to bring their own snacks and water.
Located in the western Maine town of Newry, Sunday River is one of the largest ski resorts in the northeast. An entire page on the resort’s website is dedicated to informing skiers about COVID-19 restrictions and changes. In addition to a mask requirement and a ban on storing bags and personal belongings on-site, Sunday River has implemented safety regulations at its spa and shops and will not be hosting any large events this season. Dining areas will only seat parties of eight or fewer, will use disposable dishes and silverware, and will offer contactless transactions via a QR code payment system. All lift tickets, lessons, and rentals must be booked online.
Waterville Valley Resort
This midsize family-friendly New Hampshire ski resort, located in the town of Waterville Valley, is just a 90-minute drive from the Greater Boston area, making it popular on weekends and holidays. While the resort will still be selling lift tickets on-site, Waterville is encouraging people to book online in advance, both to enhance safety and, due to capacity restrictions, to ensure that anyone who wants to ski will be able to do so. Due to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, lift tickets will only be available three to four weeks in advance and are nonrefundable. Face coverings are required in all indoor locations. Strict capacity limits will be in place at all on-site restaurants, but to make things easier for guests, Waterville has installed a capacity monitoring feature on its website that diners can use to check availability before they arrive.