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Powder During the Pandemic: How ski areas are adapting to a different winter

Dec 30, 2020 03:00AM ● By Lisa Ballard

The pandemic abruptly shut down ski areas last March and still rages nationwide, raising the question, what is skiing and snowboarding like this winter? Luckily, snowsports are outdoors, so short of a return to a full lockdown, Vermont ski areas plan to give us a complete season on snow, but it’s not exactly what we’re used to. We can still arc turns on white corduroy, mash moguls, and play in the powder, but with a few COVID-related caveats.

Lift Tickets

In general, ski areas are reducing the number of guests on a given day, up to 50 percent. The actual reduction varies, depending on a mountain’s ability to spread people out. Smaller ski areas may need to turn people away on a busy day, so you should plan to arrive early to guarantee access to the snow.

Don’t bother going inside to buy a ticket. If the ticket windows are open, it’s only the outside ones.

Many ski areas, particularly the bigger ones which can attract thousands of skiers and snowboarders on a given day, require reservations in advance, which can be made online. Season’s passholders have priority. On the bright side, this reduced capacity means a full season on uncrowded slopes!


You should plan to wear a face mask, a neck gaiter, or similar face covering. Nothing new about that. The difference is, you need to wear it both indoors and outdoors, except when you’re eating, drinking, or heading down the hill exerting yourself. On the bright side, most of us are used to face coverings while skiing and snowboarding, for protection from the cold and wind.


Like masks, we’ve all gotten used to markers delineating six feet from the person ahead of us at the grocery store, post office, and any other place where people line up. Lift lines are no different. Again, no sweat. Skiers have been social distancing in lift lines for 100 years. Six feet is about the distance between the tails of the skis in front of you and your ski tips, with a foot or so in between. (Snowboarders should leave the length of a snowboard between each other.)

What’s new is the number of people allowed to get on a lift together. Obviously, social distancing on the single chair at Mad River Glen is no problem. Beyond single-person lifts, you should expect to load 50% fewer people on doubles, triples, quads, and six-packs, rounding down if you don’t know the other people. Singles lines have disappeared, and if it’s an enclosed lift, like a gondola or tram, you may have the cabin to yourself unless you’re skiing with people you live with. It’s a great winter to ski with your family if you want conversation on the lift ride up.


Most ski areas now require a reservation for a lesson. Lessons may be shorter in duration, and you may need to take a health screening upon arrival. That said, it’s also an ideal winter to take a lesson. Group sizes are smaller at most ski areas, so you get more attention from your instructor.

In the Lodge

Most ski area restaurants are open and following Vermont state guidelines for eating establishments. Seating throughout the lodge is more spread out and, if the cafeteria is open, most items are prepackaged or served to you.

If you want to pay with cash you may be out of luck, not just buying food and beverages, but most other purchases related to your day on the slopes. Ski areas are going cashless wherever possible. In addition, high-touch surfaces and bathrooms get cleaned more frequently, not to mention the daily disinfection of most mountain facilities. Hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous as garbage cans.

Another important detail related to day lodges is that fewer people will be allowed inside. “Plan to dress warm and boot up at the car,” advises the Smuggler’s Notch website. “You may want to practice walking in those ski boots!”

Despite these covid-caveats, Vermont ski areas remain a viable and enjoyable way to exercise outdoors during the pandemic. “Will you have fun? Yes,” writes Kevin Mack, General Manager of Burke Mountain in an open letter to the skiing community. “Will there be changes to how you interact with staff and your fellow skiers and riders? Yes. Are masks required? What about social distancing? Yes and yes, indoors and outdoors. If this surprises you, welcome to Planet Earth. Pull up a chair, and let’s talk.”

Of course, pandemic policies at your favorite ski area could be different by the time you read this. Protocols are in constant flux based on infection rates, state and local guidelines, and how a mountain’s management reacts to it all.

For the most current info on COVID-19 guidelines, contact the ski area or go to and click on the name of your favorite resort.

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