What This Ski Season Will Look Like
We asked 13 major resorts what operational plans are in place for this winter. Their answers ranged from après-ski in a private dome to parking spots you need to reserve.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
This is a developing story. For the latest information on the status of resorts and protocol, visit individual resort websites.
Ski season is going to happen this year. But it won’t look like it used to. Resorts around the U.S. are using input from state and local health guidelines to operate as safely as possible. In place of crowded après-ski bars and packed gondolas, you’ll see extra-long, spaced-apart lift lines, skiers in full-face coverings, and take-out lunches eaten outside. Many resorts will also require advance reservations, so be sure to check for capacity updates before you go.
Beyond operating and safety protocols, we wanted to know what some of our favorite ski areas around the country have planned for this winter, so we called up places like Taos, Big Sky, and Breckenridge to see what’s on tap.
Copper Mountain, Colorado
Opening day: November 30. Though the resort usually opens earlier in the month, a later opening date should allow for more snowmaking and natural snowfall to ensure there’s enough terrain for skiers and riders to spread out.
Passes and tickets: The Ikon Pass (from $1,049) gets you unlimited access to Copper, and pass holders won’t need a reservation to ski. You’ll buy lift tickets online. Any ticket purchased more than 12 days ahead of time will be mailed to you; otherwise, you’ll grab it from on-site pick-up boxes.
What’s new: The resort is implementing an online reservation system for parking. Whether you’re skiing, tubing, or just coming to walk around the village, you’ll need to book a parking spot in advance. If you ride public transportation or get dropped off, you won’t need to make a reservation.
Lessons: Copper will kick off the year by offering only private lessons for groups of up to six people who are related. Starting in 2021, additional youth ski and snowboard programs should be available.
Aspen Snowmass, Colorado
Opening day: November 26 for Aspen Mountain and Snowmass; December 12 for Aspen Highlands, and December 18 for Buttermilk.
Passes and tickets: You can ski seven days at Aspen Snowmass on the Ikon Pass or two days on the Mountain Collective Pass ($489)—with either, you’ll need to make a reservation online in advance. A limited number of lift tickets will be sold, so book yours at least 72 hours ahead of time. Tickets can be delivered to your local lodging or collected from pick-up windows.
What’s new: Aspen is expecting a 20 percent decrease in visitors this year, due in part to the lack of international tourists and corporate groups it often attracts, which means fewer crowds this winter.
Uphill access: Known for its liberal uphill policies, the ski hills of Buttermilk, Snowmass, and Aspen Highlands will continue to allow uphill ski access during lift-operating hours, but this year you’ll need to stick to designated routes and check for closures due to capacity limits. The ski area’s fourth hill, Aspen Mountain, will only allow uphill access before or after the ski day.
Don’t miss: A $2.5 million renovation of Sam’s Restaurant, atop Snowmass, is now complete. A sit-down lunch includes slipper service, where you can swap ski boots for (freshly cleaned) slippers. Make a reservation, as capacity will be limited.
Opening day: Breckenridge plans to open exclusively to those who have any level of an Epic Pass (from $999) beginning November 13. Single-day tickets won’t be sold until December 8.
What’s new: All Vail Resorts, including Breck, will be starting the season with a reservation system for Epic pass holders. So book your ski days in advance—you’re allotted up to seven priority days (which vary by resort) that can be made well ahead of time, while other days can be reserved the week of. This reservation system will open for the season on November 6. Skiers and riders will now be allowed to bring their own lunches into lodges. If you plan to rent ski or snowboard gear, book online ahead of time and get it delivered to wherever you’re staying.
Don’t miss: Grand Colorado on Peak 8 is installing a new clear dome, which can be reserved for property owners and guests in an existing group who want to après responsibly in a heated, private slopeside space with beverage service and mountain views.
What’s closed: Full-service bars will likely not open for indoor service, but beer and wine will be available to go at most lodges and markets.
Big Sky, Montana
Opening day: November 26.
Passes and tickets: Big Sky may limit the number of season passes sold this year, but as of press time, they’re on sale and won’t require reservations. The Ikon Pass grants you seven days at Big Sky, for which you’ll need to make a reservation to ski. The Mountain Collective Pass gets you two days here, and at this time, reservations for Mountain Collective pass holders aren’t required.
What’s new: The Lone Peak Tram will open this year, with face coverings required and limited capacity. The resort is also considering a new boot-pack route to offer skiers and riders a way to climb Lone Peak from the top of Dakota lift, bypassing the tram. Also, this winter the public will be able to access the 8,000-square-foot Yellowstone Conference Center as a bigger indoor space for lunch and hot-chocolate breaks.
Early ups: New this year, an unguided first-tracks program called Early Access will let skiers and riders load the Ramcharger 8 lift at 8 a.m., an hour before everyone else. You’ll need to purchase an Early Access ticket online (from $60), and only a limited number of them are being sold.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Opening day: November 26.
Passes and tickets: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort pass holders won’t need to make reservations to ski, but Ikon pass holders—who get seven days here—will need to book a spot. Mountain Collective pass holders, who get two days at Jackson Hole, do not need to make reservations at this time. The resort will sell a limited number of daily tickets; buy them online at least 14 days in advance for the biggest discount.
What’s new: If you want to skip the tram, skiers and riders will be allowed to boot-pack up Rendezvous Bowl via the East Ridge Traverse. Those interested in trying out a pair of demo skis this season can now rent gear from seven different locations at the base of Jackson Hole, as well as two hotels—Hotel Terra (from $480) and Teton Mountain Lodge (from $370)—or request delivery to your lodging.
Early ups: Book a private lesson or guide and you’ll have an option to upgrade for early tram and gondola access. This winter the general public will be able to load Teewinot, the Sweetwater Gondola, and the Après Vous chair 30 minutes earlier than the resort’s 9 A.M. opening time, to help spread people out from the base area.
What’s happening: The invite-only Kings and Queens of Corbet’s, an event which features top skiers and riders launching into the famed Corbet’s Couloir, will return for its fourth year this winter. It’s scheduled to run February 16 to 21, 2021, via livestream.
Where to stay: When you book a well-designed vacation rental with Outpost (from $95), amenities include a no-contact check-in, bundled lift tickets, and a fridge stocked prior to your arrival.
Opening day: Snowbird plans to open, conditions permitting, on November 30. By kicking the season off a bit later than usual, the resort hopes to have expanded terrain, more snowmaking, and as many lifts open as possible starting from the first day.
Passes and tickets: Ikon pass holders get seven days at Snowbird, and no reservations to ski will be required, but you will need to book a spot to park. If you’re buying a day ticket, get it online ahead of time, and plan to pick it up from self-service kiosks scattered around the base area.
What’s new: All visitors to Snowbird arriving by car will need to make a reservation for parking. The UTA Ski Bus will still operate but at reduced capacity and with a face-covering requirement.
Lifts: The tram will operate at just 25 percent of its usual winter capacity; however, anyone not skiing or riding won’t be allowed up to the top of the mountain this year.
Before you go: Check the resort’s website, and get the soon-to-be-released Snowbird app, which will have wait times, parking information, and other critical updates.
Park City, Utah
Opening day: November 20.
Passes and tickets: If you have any version of the Epic Pass, you’ll need to make a reservation to ski. For day tickets, rather than buy a regular lift ticket online in advance (pricing to be announced), opt for the more affordable Epic Day Pass (from $107 a day), a low-commitment version of the Epic Pass. The Epic Day Pass also gets you between one and seven days, and, yes, those still require a reservation.
Lessons: Group lessons for the four-and-under age group won’t be available this year.
Eat: For dinner, Hearth and Hill is offering dine-in service, take-out meals for a family of four, and frozen entrées to cook at your lodging, like chef-prepared lasagna, plus free delivery. The restaurant will also sell an array of boxed to-go lunches that you can bring to the ski hill.
Don’t miss: High West Distillery is hosting virtual mixology classes and online whiskey-education courses. Pick up a bottle of bourbon, and learn how to make a proper old-fashioned at your condo.
Taos, New Mexico
Opening day: November 26.
Passes and tickets: Taos Ski Valley will operate at 50 percent capacity this season, which means that both day ticket (available on October 15; prices to be announced) and season pass (available on October 9; from $450) holders will need to reserve spots in advance. If you buy an Ikon Pass, you’ll get seven days at Taos and will need to make a reservation before you show up. The Mountain Collective Pass gets you two days here, with no reservations needed.
Travel restrictions: As of press time, if you’re traveling to New Mexico from a state on the high-risk list for COVID cases, then you’re required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Start your day: Get a green-chile-smothered breakfast burrito and a coffee to go from Café Naranja, located inside the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, which is set to reopen this winter. The resort is going cashless, so plan to pay for everything—from dining to rentals—by card.
Stay here: The Blake at Taos Ski Valley (from $250)—the resort’s newest ski-in, ski-out hotel, was closed for the summer but is expected to reopen for winter at 65 percent capacity. Its restaurant, 192 at The Blake, is currently open for online ordering and takeout.
Before you go: Check the resort’s website.
Opening day: To be announced.
Passes and tickets: The Ski Maine Mountain Pass (from $649), on sale until October 12, gives you access to both Sugarloaf and Sunday River; the Ikon Pass gets you up to seven days of skiing here; and the Mountain Collective Pass gets you two days. Currently, no reservations will be required for any of those passes. Lift tickets can be purchased online and, unlike many resorts, at walk-up ticket windows the day of. You’ll also find ten new automated kiosks around the base area to pick up lift tickets purchased ahead of time.
What’s new: Gone are the days of human ticket checkers. Sugarloaf has installed radio-frequency identification gates that you’ll ski through to scan your passes before loading the lifts.
Travel restrictions: Visitors to Maine coming from outside of a handful of nearby states are required to show a negative COVID test result or self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the state.
Transportation: You can still ride the free shuttle around the area, but plan on wearing a face covering, and expect capacity to be cut in half.
Opening day: November 20.
Passes and tickets: All guests using an Epic Pass will need to make a reservation to ski at Stowe this winter. Lift tickets will only be sold online after December 8 for designated days.
Travel restrictions: Vermont currently has cross-state travel restrictions in place, so if you’re coming from outside its borders, be sure to read up on quarantine requirements before you pack your bags.
Lifts: The gondola will be open. Face coverings will be required, and only related groups will be allowed to load together.
For your convenience: You can now get take-out orders or groceries delivered to your door, thanks to Stowe To Go, the area’s first (and only) food-delivery service.
Mammoth Mountain, California
Opening day: Mammoth tends to be one of the first ski resorts in California to open. This year the resort will start cranking the lifts November 14.
Passes and tickets: Walk-up day tickets won’t be available, and those purchased in advance will be sold on a limited basis, so expect to secure them at least seven days in advance. Skiers and riders with an Ikon Pass have unlimited access to Mammoth and won’t need to make reservations, as of press time.
Drink: Distant Brewing has a socially distant beer garden that’s open for patio dining and beer tasting, or order online to pick up a growler to take back to your pad.
Soak: Squeezing into a natural hot springs with strangers isn’t a great idea this year, and many of the steaming pools around Mammoth can get crowded in a normal year. Instead, book a private tub and winter campsite or room at Benton Hot Springs (from $60), 50 minutes northeast of town.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, California
Opening day: November 25, conditions permitting.
Passes and tickets: There’s no reservation system here for skiing and riding. Ikon pass holders get unlimited days at Squaw Alpine; Mountain Collective pass holders get two days. There will be no walk-up ticket sales, and advance tickets will be offered on a limited basis. If you buy a ticket more than ten days ahead of time, it can be mailed to you.
What’s open: Ski and ride schools will be operational, with new regulations in place. The Funitel and aerial tram are slated to open with face coverings required and social-distancing efforts in place.
What’s closed: The popular sunset happy hours at High Camp, atop the tram, won’t be available this year, though restaurants there will be open. Favorite festivities, such as the holiday torchlight parade and moonlight snowshoe tours, aren’t currently scheduled, but the springtime Pain McShlonkey Classic is likely to go on, pending local ordinances.
Eat here: Tremigo Mexico Kitchen, which opened last year in Squaw Valley Village, has online ordering and swift take-out service.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Opening day: Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain will open on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, with nearby Dollar Mountain to follow on December 12.
Passes and tickets: You won’t find a reservation system at Sun Valley this winter, though lift tickets may be restricted to minimize crowds, so be sure to get there early. Epic pass holders now get seven days of skiing or riding at Sun Valley, and even though the Epic Pass requires reservations at Vail-owned destinations, at this time you don’t need a reservation to use your Epic Pass here.
What’s new: This winter, a high-speed quad replaces what was the resort’s oldest chairlift, Cold Springs, and skiers and riders will be able to spread out on 380 acres of new skiable terrain, located on Bald Mountain’s south side.
For your convenience: If you need to leave items behind, there will be a bag-check station outside the lodge.