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How to stay safe on the slopes

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After going through lockdowns and quarantines for nearly a year, downhill ski enthusiasts are eager to hit the slopes. Skiing is a relatively safe activity for COVID: it’s outdoors, social distancing is built in, and masks and gloves are already on of rigor. But ski resorts have made changes this winter to try and keep skiers safe.

Avoid the crowds. You’ll come across mask-wearing warrants and social distancing protocols designed to limit overcrowding and control the potential spread of the virus. Overcrowded ski areas present the same risk as at the start of the pandemic: the potential for a generalized epidemic, like that of the Ischgl ski resort in Austria last March that infected thousands of people. Consider going mid-week to avoid the weekend and holiday crowds.

Plan for longer queues and limited indoor space. Many lodges will be closed, except for the use of sanitary facilities. So if you aren’t already starting up in your car, now is a good time to start. Dressing warmer, using warm compresses or battery-powered socks / boots, will be essential when you can’t hide in a lodge to warm up. And at the ski lifts, you may be asked to only go up with people in your group. Access to the mountains may be even more restricted in areas using cable cars or trams. (The Jackson Hole streetcar in Wyoming runs at a lower capacity, for example.)

In many places, you may not be able to rent equipment or even purchase mountain passes. A number of mountains have reservation systems in place, requiring skiers to go online to reserve the days they wish to ski. Stations that do not have a reservation system will have capacity limits to control the number of skiers.

The social aspect of skiing is also affected by the pandemic. Expect fewer restaurants and outdoor grill areas to be open, and far fewer après-ski activities. Any food available will often be take out.

Stay flexible. If you are booking at a resort, you will need to be prepared for last minute changes. Local and national public health regulations can change rapidly. At some ski resorts, such as Vermont, skiers will be asked to self-quarantine if traveling from out of state and provide contact details to allow contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. (Visit DiscoverSnow.org and select the COVID-19 tab for information on ski areas by state, property group, or package type.)

Do your research before buying lift tickets to see if you can get your money back if you get sick, if regulations change and you can’t travel, or if the mountain closes. Many resorts have coronavirus-related refund policies this year, so if you need to cancel you may be able to get at least some of your money back. Season ticket refunds are often prorated based on the number of days skiing. For example, the Ikon and Epic season passes, which grant access to dozens of resorts in the western United States and around the world, have in-built refunds or credits for a 2021-2022 season pass if the stations are forced to close due to COVID.

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