By David & Ann Schissler – Over the summer every ski area and resort in North America struggled with determining safe operational policies for this season. They learned from their summer operations and from ski resorts experiencing the pandemic and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. During that time I participated in Zoom meetings with the National Ski Areas Association, the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, the Professional Ski Instructors of America, The Professional Snowboard Instructors Association, Ski New Hampshire, Ski Vermont and others working to come to a consensus regarding best practices to implement this winter. To learn about their concerns then and just how different this season could have been please read a piece I did back in June. Here’s the link: What a Day on the Hill May Look Like this Season

Masked up and looking like an alien on the Loon gondola

As advertised, this season is noticeably different. Purchasing tickets, rentals and lessons online in advance, limited ticket availability, reserving a parking spot, not riding the lift with strangers, staying out of the lodges all day, lunch in the car, “booting up” in your car, no après ski at the bar, and of course the wearing of the ubiquitous mask are all adjustments we’ve had to make to ski (I suspect many of the new digital systems implemented due to the pandemic may be with us to stay given their cost-saving efficiency). 

Epic lines for Epic Pass holders. Photo: Unofficial Networks

The Epic Pass has been anything but simple this season. It’s quite possible no pass program has received more criticism for mismanaging demand. Customer complaints range from taking hours to get passes/tickets and mind-blowing lift lines. You’ve probably seen the pics on FB and Twitter, too. Some of their resorts charge for parking. I’ve heard horror stories of pass holders turning away for lack of a place to park. One of my college friends, Ken, has lived in Vail for decades. He has a locker and a reserved parking spot at Golden Peak. He’s not skiing Vail this year. He’s opting out for the back-country near his home.

Welcome to Base Camp Sienna!

This season has been quite different for me in other ways, too. It’s been a bit of a sabbatical. I usually ski a dozen or more resorts each winter but like most of you I’m staying close to home this season. Admittedly, given my NASJA status I rarely need to buy a lift ticket. Areas are generally happy to comp a ticket in exchange for the publicity provided. Last fall it became clear the traditional complimentary media passes would not be in effect this season. It was also clear given the Covid-19 travel restrictions that skiing many resorts and buying day tickets in advance online would be cumbersome and availability iffy. I’m fortunate to have a condo in Lincoln, NH halfway between Cannon and Loon. To quell my access anxiety I decided to make Loon my home mountain this season and shelled out $589 for a midweek season pass. It was a wise decision and a bargain.

I’m experiencing a bit of a paradox in this pandemic season. I find I’m skiing more and writing less. I’ve already skied more days in 20/21 than in all of last year’s truncated season. Frankly, just getting into a rhythm and carving turns without concern about a story angle, a photo op, or a resort update has liberated my skiing. I’ve also gotten off of the social media treadmill a good deal this season by mostly posting pics to Instagram. Given FB’s and Twitter’s algorithmic propensity to promote conspiracy theories, hate, white supremacy and their contribution to the erosion of democracy I have no desire to drive more “likes” and contribute to their revenue. This is also the year of the resort website. It’s virtually impossible to post up-to-the-minute pandemic updates and regulations at each resort unless you are that resort. I recommend that wherever you make your turns check with the mountain’s website before arriving to avoid disappointing surprises.