As the days become shorter and the temperature drops, anticipation of the snowy months ahead increases. But this year, changes to resort policies may have winter enthusiasts concerned about what’s to come.
I imagine it like this: Skiers and boarders booting up for first chair in the parking lot while sipping steaming cocoa from containers, munching on granola bars trailside under the cover of towering pines and meeting friends for après around outdoor fire pits, sharing stories of the day’s best runs as the sun disappears behind the peak.
Jessyca Keeler, president of Ski New Hampshire, is similarly optimistic.
“It’s almost as if we have some unfinished business after having our season come to an abrupt end in mid-March,” she said last month when Gov. Chris Sununu announced COVID-19 rules for the state’s ski areas.
As a snowboarder, I’m eager to lay into that first carve on fresh groomers. But to make every day worthwhile, I’m embracing Ski NH’s unofficial slogan for the 2020-21 season: “Know Before You Go.”
Make a planResorts still plan to offer many common services, but with slight modifications. Rentals should be reserved in advance, lessons will be private, and shuttle options around the base areas will ensure social distancing.
To limit numbers in lodges, many ski areas will offer grab-and-go food options or provide restaurant-style dining where guests are seated and served. For outdoor dining, Gunstock Mountain Resort plans on enlarging its food truck fleet.
The limitations on lodge access may draw skepticism, but ski areas are adjusting. Outdoor heating lamps and fire pits will be installed to keep skiers and riders warm. The Paul Bunyan Room deck — a favorite slopeside hangout at Loon Mountain Resort — will have additional weather protection to make outdoor breaks more comfortable. Pats Peak Ski Area has even added bathroom facilities at the base of lifts for those wanting to avoid the lodge altogether.
Buy before you ride
Many ski areas require ticket reservations ahead of time to adhere to capacity limits. In most cases, tickets can be booked online with reloadable RFID chip cards allowing direct lot-to-lift access. If plans change — as they often do — some resorts will even accept booking modifications 48 to 72 hours in advance. Resorts do not anticipate reservation requirements for season passholders, but make sure to check the updated policies on individual resort pages before opening day.
Boot up at the carAs resorts do their best to limit the number of people inside, guests won’t be allowed to store boot bags and other belongings in lodge areas. Instead, they’ll be encouraged to get dressed at their cars.
This might prove tricky on blustery days. In order to make the transition easier, Waterville Valley Resort has expanded parking lots and trolley services, providing more opportunities for patrons to access what they need. Riding with a small backpack containing snacks, water, and other essentials (toe warmers for me) is recommended.
“Given the restrictions that resorts are implementing on indoor use, guests are likely to get a lot more runs in, which will be a great way for people to have healthy, outdoor fun during a challenging time,” Keeler said this week.
Wear a face mask
Face coverings will be required when loading, riding and unloading lifts, and, of course, when inside. Additionally, guests may only ride with family or party members as social distancing will be crucial for a long, successful season.
“The sharing of the responsibilities of keeping people safe at ski areas will be important to keep the areas open, and I think people will be willing to adapt to the changes implemented to protect people’s health,” Keeler said.
If one thing is certain, the safety of guests, employees and members of the community is a priority for all New Hampshire ski areas.
So keep your fingers crossed, start the snow dances, and remember why we do this in the first place — a love of the great outdoors.