The downhill skiing and snowboarding season is here. Colorado’s Keystone resort garnered the coveted “first to open” award for Front Range resorts, followed closely by Arapahoe Basin and Loveland. These three resorts typically vie for the earliest opening award each year.

While other ski resorts across the region are preparing to open as conditions allow, this year will look and feel different due to Covid-19. This season is unlike any other.

First, getting a lift ticket is different. Those who prefer walking up to the ticket window to purchase a ticket just before hitting the slopes will be out of luck. Ticket windows may be open, but only for picking up pre-purchased lift tickets. The same is true of ski lessons where purchase in advance is required.

This season, tickets are bought strictly online. That is the case for the Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area, at least to start the season. They kick off their season Dec. 4.

Alterra Mountain Company, which operates both Steamboat and Winter Park resorts, announced their operation plans for the upcoming season in a press release dated Sept. 14. CEO Rusty Gregory said access to the resorts will be prioritized for season pass holders, and the number of daily lift tickets will be tightly regulated and available only through advance purchase. Walk-up window sales are eliminated, as well as the sale of undated lift ticket products.

“The health and well-being of Alterra Mountain Co. guests, employees and local communities has and will always be our company’s highest priority,” Gregory said. “Since last winter’s resort closures, our teams have been working to develop operating plans and protocols designed to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”

According to the Winter Park website, during peak times such as holidays and weekends, daily lift ticket sales will be limited to minimize crowding. Similar crowd limits are planned across the Rocky Mountain region. It is recommended purchasing tickets in advance, and be flexible in date selection.

On the Steamboat website, they report stand-alone, single-day lift tickets will be unavailable from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, 2021. They can still be purchased but only as part of a lift and lodging package. Those who have special season passes, including the Snowy Range pass holders who have the Steamboat add-on, are not required to make reservations at this time.

Most, if not all, resorts and ski areas require a face mask in common spaces and lift lines, as well as on lifts. Another requirement in the lift lines is maintaining social distancing of at least six feet. This might be easy with people in line, one behind and in front of the other, due to the length of the skis. Keeping the distance side-by-side is trickier. Riding the lift only with members in your group is recommended but, when riding with strangers, there should be at least one space in between.

At Winter Park resort, they report they’ve adjusted lift mazes to accommodate the necessary distancing. They also plan to modify lift loading procedures to encourage social distancing while riding the lift. As details are finalized, they will be posted on the resort website.

Since people are outdoors, the biggest risk during a day of skiing is not while skiing or even getting on or riding the lift. The biggest challenge is indoors where skiers warm up, grab a bite to eat, and use the facilities. Most, if not all, resorts require masks at all times in lodge and restaurants with the exception of sitting at a table while eating or drinking.

At the Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area they recommend making your car your mini lodge. Plan to put on gear in your vehicle and even go there for a lunch break.

The bottom line is that there will be a 2020-2021 ski season, but notable adjustments are in place. Check ski area website regularly to note any updates and changes through the season. Because this is year is unlike any other, expect refinement of the rules and guidelines as the season progresses.

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