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It seems almost obvious: Geared up with thick goggles and a face mask to protect your face, plus the natural distance skiers and snowboarders take up on the slopes, the winter sport of skiing is seeing a surge in searches and interest as we all look for safer ways to live our lives throughout the ongoing pandemic. “Now more than ever, we are all craving time outside, to forge a stronger connection with nature, and to create memories that will last a lifetime,” says James Schubauer, CEO of Bomber Ski, maker of fine, handcrafted skis. “Skiing always delivers the joy, the challenge, the feeling that you are doing the only thing that matters in that moment,” he adds.

Those willing to hit the slopes at this time will undoubtedly find that thrill, but they’ll also find a ski season landscape that looks a little different from years past. In the age of COVID-19, gone are the days of crowded dining halls and rager après parties where spraying Champagne is the norm. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re considering a ski trip this season, including where to go and what each destination is doing to keep you safe, plus some of the gear you should consider buying, too.

The basics of skiing the 2020/21 season

The, uh, dur—obvious: Don’t travel if you’re sick or have shown recent COVID-19 symptoms, try to avoid the places COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, understand the local health guidelines for your final destination(s), and always practice general COVID safety.

Visiting a ski resort during COVID-19: The key thing to remember this ski season is to plan further in advance. Some resorts we asked recommended even planning as far as three months in advance for your ski fiesta. And definitely research and call ahead to understand the resort’s safety policies—and if they meet your standards.

“To allow for physical distancing, we are managing access to our mountains through a reservation system and limiting lift ticket sales in order to prioritize our pass holders,”says Jessica Miller, a Park City, Utah rep. “This reservation system is designed to give our guests peace of mind knowing that they will have the space they need to feel safe and physically distance. For the vast majority of days, we anticipate that we will be able to accommodate everyone who wants to visit – but the reservation system will help us to allow guests the space they need, no matter when they come,” she adds.

Where to stay: It’ll come as no surprise that if you can swing it, and especially if you’re traveling with a small group of friends or family, a vacation rental is the way to go this season. (Preferably a ski-in, ski out with a hot tub—we can dream, right?) Even before COVID-19, vacation rental platform TurnKey Vacation Rentals was using digital lock technology for contactless check-in and checkouts, and as a response to the pandemic, they’ve put in place strict cleaning guidelines using EPA-approved, COVID-fighting products at all their properties, which are confirmed by photo validation. If you’re booking through Airbnb—another great option—message the host to start a dialogue to grasp what they’re doing to keep guests safe.

Oh, and mask up, wouldya? Even if you’re wearing a ski mask, you should plan to have a cloth facial covering underneath it or on you at all times, too. Many, and almost all, resorts are requiring them both on and off the mountain. (Here are some of our favorite breathable masks for working out.)

How to get there: If you’re not comfortable hopping on a flight and checking luggage—which seems to always be the case with puffy ski coats—you’re going to want to consider a destination that is more local and drivable this season, and you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, a trend report from Amex recently revealed 50 percent of respondents are willing to drive two to four hours, while 25 percent are willing to drive ten to 25 hours per trip in the next three months in order to travel safely. If you do decide to take your car or a rental car, you’ll want to bring along something that can help you get unstuck from snow or icy conditions, like the Trac-Grabber ($70). These handy little tire traction straps snap onto your tires easily so you can rescue yourself from a snowy situation when it pops up.

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How to stay safe on a ski trip

“I would advise skiers to engage in common practices such as physically distancing and mask wearing where possible,” says Dr. Curtis White, the chief technology officer of ViaClean Technologies, a biotech company that develops antimicrobial solutions to protect surfaces. “I would also advise they take the time to research the safeguards facilities are putting in place, including mandatory face coverings, physical distancing on chairlifts and gondolas, and the cleaning and sanitization procedures adopted,” he adds. Here are some of Dr. White’s other ski safety tips for this season:

1. Only take gondola’s which have open-air flow: It goes against most skier and snowboarder’s instincts, but don’t be tempted to jump on a ski lift or gondola with total strangers just so you can get to the top of the mountain quicker. Instead, look to ride solo or with your “pod.”

2. Be conscious of the surfaces you are touching such as railings: This is not easy to do when you’re on the mountain, as you often need to hold onto rails for the ski lift or to get up and down steps or into the queues themselves. Our advice: Keep a personal hand sanitizer on you at all times and wear your gloves to touch as much as you can, which brings us to our next point…

3. Make sure to thoroughly clean clothing, including jackets and pants and gloves, that may have touched surfaces other people might have touched. Also, do not share helmets or any clothing that touches your mouth or nose, Dr. White advises. He also says to avoid the out-of-sight-out-of-mind places that may be overlooked during routine cleanings.

What to bring on your ski trip

1. Ski goggles: Keep your peepers protected from the harsh rays, and anything else for that matter.

Shop ski goggles: Native Tenmile Snow Goggles ($129, now $90); Blenders JJ Pacific Aura ($95); Giro Semi Ski Goggles ($90); Kids’ Giro Rev Goggles ($45)

2. Ski masks: This season it goes on top of your PPE and keeps your face nice and toasty.

Shop ski masks: Pom-Pom Balaclava ($40); Achiou Balaclava Face Mask UV Protection Sun Hood Tactical ski ($10); Breathable Kids Balaclava Ski Mask ($15)

3. Ski helmet covers: Whether you want to protect your helmet from scratches or make a statement, these helmet covers will answer the call.

Shop ski helmet covers: MDXONE Kids Balaclava Over The Helmet Children face mask ($20); Pack of 3 Lycra Bandana Face Hat for Outdoor Airsoft Motorcycle Ski Mask Winter Sun Balaclava Black Tactical Hood Helmet ($10)

4. Ski face covers: Totally agree, you’ll look like a boss shredding down the mountain in one of these.

Shop ski face covers: Spyder Pivot Balaclava ($29); Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear (from $19); Smartwool Merino 250 Pattern Balaclava ($45)


5. Ski gloves:
Protection for your paws, and a layer of safety between your fingers.

Shop ski gloves: Burton GORE-TEX Gloves (from $56); Helly Hansen ULLR Sogn HT Glove ($110); Flylow DB Glove ($55)

Where to visit:

After thoroughly reviewing safety precautions and protocols, here are some of the best places to visit for the 2020 ski season. Keeping safety in mind, make sure to do advanced planning this ski season and evaluate the differences you’ll experience at each location.

big sky montana covid ski trip

1. Big Sky, Montana

This *seriously huge* resort is the ideal place to spread out, with lower skier to terrain ratios than most others around. Big Sky will be enforcing all mask mandates, which require them to be worn inside, as well as outdoors during your time at the resort. In addition to these measures, they will be implementing extensive cleaning protocols for their lodging properties/restaurants/indoor spaces and other public areas. The resort has also made contactless checkout easy at all of the locations around the resort. Finally, while the resort is limiting daily capacity, they are taking the first few weeks of ski season to determine what these limitations will mean. To be sure you’re guaranteed a spot, book in advance.

2. Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Whether you have your heart set on Lake Tahoe’s iconic Squaw Valley or Heavenly Ski Resort, there are plenty of options available in the area. To enjoy a stunning view of the lake as well as snow-capped mountains, check out the Edgewood Tahoe Resort, which is taking COVID-19 safety seriously and offers spacious accommodations, plus plenty of outdoor activities for the entire family.

All of the resorts are monitoring the number of people on the slopes, so make sure you check sites before you go. As of press time, the state of Nevada is enforcing the 25-percent rule when it comes to indoor dining, so reserve in advance and bring your mask.

aspen snowmass colorado covid 19 ski trip
Jeremy Swanson

3. Aspen, Snowmass, Colorado

The folks at Aspen, Snowmass have worked hard to make sure their guests are safe this ski season, with a contactless booking system that allows you to seamlessly check in, access confirmation forms and sign digital waivers. Guests will also have access to The Aspen Snowmass App, which will make it easy to order extra ski days, lessons and rentals. In order to maintain an added level of safety, the app will also allow guests to order food and beverage items directly from their phones to completely limit interactions.

The Aspen Snowmass team is also enforcing mandatory masks, social distancing and capacity limits on the hill. While indoor dining will be open, restaurants are limited to 25-percent capacity. They suggest that you book as far ahead of time as you can in order to meet capacity requirements.

4. Mt. Bachelor, Oregon

This resort is the sixth largest in North America, and it will be open and available for the 2020-2021 ski season. While the entire operating plan can be found here, among the changes that skiers can expect are limited capacities in the lodge, and food services will be available primarily via food carts. To ensure the safety of guests and employees, they’ve also issued a few new changes, such as required parking reservations.

vail colorado covid 19 ski trip
Jack Affleck/Getty Images

5. Vail, Colorado

One of the best parts about Vail Village is that it’s easy to walk everywhere, so there’s no need for ridesharing and you can limit your exposure to others as you transport yourself around. Check out The Arrabelle or The Lodge for options that will put you right in the heart of Vail Village and all of its bustling festivities.

Prop up your feet in the snow at Vail Village, which has been working hard to implement new COVID-ready safety standards. They are limiting the amounts of season passes, as well as the amount of lift tickets that they sell. You can check out their reservation system here.

6. Deer Valley, Utah

This storied resort less than an hour from Salt Lake City is not selling day-of, walk-up tickets this year, and are reducing overall capacity. Masks will be required while waiting in lift lines, loading, riding, and unloading chairs, and at all times indoors unless you’re eating or drinking. Another piece of advice from their crew: Be aware of cancellation policies for the reservations you make and consider eating before or after your day on the mountain. “We have increased outdoor, grab-and go options, and in order to accommodate our capacity restrictions, all of our day lodges will require reservations to enjoy a meal indoors,” a rep tells us.

7. Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

If you’re looking for fun (and adventurous!) slope side dining options, Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado’s got you covered this season. They offer on-mountain snowcats, affectionately named Taco Beast and the Pizza Ranger, that will deliver you fresh treats without ever having to leave the mountain. Meanwhile, the Mountain Tap Brewery turned three different gondolas into private seating booths, so you can eat out while staying safe.

To manage the crowds this season and as part of the resort’s safety measures, you must book online ahead of time as they won’t be opening ticket offices. You can read all about their safety protocols here.

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