I’m braced for worst-case scenario this ski season, which would mean I don’t go skiing at all.
I hope it does not come to that. Ski area operators have put in considerable time and effort planning for a season during a pandemic, but so many things will make it a very different experience and so many variables remain.
There will be generally accepted standard practices at most resorts, including needing reservations for skiing and other mountain activities (including parking reservations at some places); wearing masks at all times; physical distancing and lift capacity reductions; putting on your gear at your vehicle and possibly eating/warming up there too; and limited lodge access.
You’ll also have to be aware of travel regulations, which vary by state. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise this fall, it feels like the early months of the pandemic more than when the numbers were trending downward, and now states are responding with new rules. Google them before you go, as they can change from day to day.
I do think many New England skiers and riders can handle this. A good number of us share a certain spirit of adventure and embrace the challenges inherent in any activity rather than dread them, and putting up with a few hassles on the way to the slopes will be like gliding over that patch of boilerplate ice between you and the better snow on the side of the trail. We tolerate certain discomforts because we know there’s great pleasure to be found if we just suck it up and deal with it.
This year’s kind of skiing won’t be for everyone. I would not want to make this the year I introduced a young child to the sport, nor would I want to go skiing with anyone who is high maintenance or a creature of comfort. It also looks like apres-ski will have to wait until you get home, or at least the parking lot.
I have thought extensively about my approach, and I believe many others are also putting a lot of brainpower into it, judging by the conversations I’m seeing on message boards and social media. Everything from what pass to buy to clarifications on rules and regulations have dominated the chatter.
My plan is this:
• For the most part, I plan to use vacation days to only ski on weekdays when the crowds are usually lighter. I realize others may also take this approach, but even if there was a surge in weekday skiing, I would not anticipate those crowds being worse than weekends.
• I’ll buy an Indy Pass. I’ve been hesitant to actually make the purchase largely because of travel restrictions in Vermont, which boasts some of the Indy Pass options that interest me the most, but it will actually not be a problem for me to quarantine in my Massachusetts home ahead of time and travel straight to a resort in a personal vehicle. I realize I am fortunate to be able to work from home at least through March. Plus, even if I only use it in Massachusetts, I think it’ll be worth it.
• I’m skipping the usual slopeside accommodations for an annual midweek trip in favor of chain hotels near ski area clusters. This way I’m not locked into one place if things worsen. While many resorts are offering relaxed cancellation policies and other guarantees, we just don’t know where the next outbreak will be and this will give me the most flexibility. I am also prepared for the possibility the trip is a no-go.
• I’ll follow the rules. It sounds so obvious, yet there have been so many stories about people pushing the boundaries or ignoring protocols altogether in various ways throughout the pandemic. Let’s not have “Reckless skiers ruin things for everyone” be a real headline this winter.
“It’s very important that skiers and riders embrace their responsibility in this,” said Adam White, director of communications for Ski Vermont, during a media call the organization held in October.
For many, the combined forces of a burning desire to enjoy a day on the mountain and pandemic fatigue are going to be extremely difficult to overcome. Fortunately, we’re talking about something that is generally an outdoor activity.
So sure, things are not going to be like they were, and some of the better communal aspects of skiing may be largely lost. Skiing and riding is going to be weird to say the least.
But East Coast skiers endure a whole range of conditions. Raise your hand if you’ve ever skied with rain gear improvised from trash bags, or had your ski or board base chewed up by ice with rocks poking through but you still had fun out there.
Of course, it would be the most New England thing ever if this winter turns out to be blessed with storm after storm of fluffy powder.
To borrow and adapt a line from the Roman poet Virgil (relayed to me by a wise old man): If we endure this one, we can save ourselves for better seasons.