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Your Guide to Skiing Safely This Winter 

click to enlarge Burke Mountain - JANET ESSMAN FRANZ
  • Janet Essman Franz
  • Burke Mountain

While COVID-19 creates considerable uncertainty this winter, Vermonters can count on these tried-and-true things: It will snow; we can ski and snowboard; and happy children will glide down local mountains.

Skiing and snowboarding are among the safest activities during the pandemic, just as long as people from different households stay six feet apart.

"Outdoor activities that can be performed with physical distancing are inherently safer than indoor activities of any nature. Skiing and snowboarding would certainly fall into this category," says Benjamin Lee, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist on the faculty of the University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine. "Transportation to and from the slopes is a concern. Carpooling should be avoided if at all possible, or, if vehicles must be shared, everyone should wear masks and the windows should be cracked."

This winter, Vermont ski resorts enacted new measures in accordance with state guidance to help reduce the risk of infection. That includes creative solutions such as food trucks, fire pits, outdoor seating, and heat lamps at base areas. As of early December, Vermont's 20 alpine ski areas plan to welcome guests, but the experience will feel very different. Here's what you need to know to enjoy safe and fun skiing and riding this winter.

Be Informed: The best way to have a great day on the mountain is to plan ahead. Ski Vermont has organized the Know Before You Go: Ski Trip Planning and COVID-19 web page, with links to each ski area's safety policies. Read the policy of the resort you plan to visit and adhere to the individual rules. Sign up for your favorite resorts' newsletters and follow them on social media. Things can change quickly, so check back often.

Lift Tickets/Reservations: Capacity restrictions require resorts to limit single-day passes. Buy tickets online for the date you intend to go. Many resorts require guests to purchase and pick up reloadable identification cards ($5 plus tax), which you can refill with new tickets online. If you travel to a resort without buying tickets in advance, you may find no tickets available that day.

Season passes are the most reliable way to ensure access to skiing and riding this winter. Middlebury Snow Bowl offers the "Shared Parent/Guardian Pass," designed for parents to swap while taking turns watching children. Some resorts, including Middlebury Snow Bowl, Stowe Mountain and Okemo, require guests with season passes to make reservations before arriving. The state has advised resorts to offer lenient cancellation policies in hopes of discouraging people from hitting the slopes if they are sick.

Lift Riding: Those waiting in lines will be required to maintain six-foot distancing and wear masks. Guests should ride lifts only with members of their household or sit at least six feet apart. Lift attendants will support this practice and allow people to ride solo. On enclosed lifts, windows will remain open.

click to enlarge 5-year-old Ronin White of Jericho masks up for a day of skiing - ADAM WHITE
  • Adam White
  • 5-year-old Ronin White of Jericho masks up for a day of skiing

Masks: Face coverings must be worn over the nose and mouth everywhere at ski areas, except when seated with your family while eating or drinking. If you choose a neck gaiter for your face covering, make sure it is thick material with a tight weave, such as polyester fleece, and it fits snugly over your nose.

"Any material that has a loose weave is insufficient, even if the material itself is thick. For example, loose-knit scarves made of heavier wool or cotton still may be insufficient," says Dr. Lee. "If in doubt, wear a cloth facial covering under the gaiter."

If wearing a mask with ear loops under your helmet feels uncomfortable, carry the mask in your pocket to put on when you take your helmet off, to go to the bathroom, for example.

Equipment Rentals: Most resorts have shifted to online equipment rentals that allow visitors to fill out forms and pay before arriving. Bolton Valley and Sugarbush resorts require reservations for equipment, with specific pickup times for each reservation.

Lessons: Some resorts have suspended group lessons and multi-week programs this year but continue to offer private and semiprivate lessons with advanced reservations. Smugglers' Notch, Bolton Valley, Mad River Glen and Stowe will offer youth group lessons with reduced class sizes, but kids will eat lunch with their own families. Smugglers' also offers a five-week Mom & Me, Dad & Me program for kids of all ages with their parents. The Burton Snowboards Riglet Park and Treehouse, an on-snow play area designed to introduce young children to snowboarding, will be open and staffed, with hands-on tools sanitized between uses.

Childcare: Some resorts, including Bolton, Stowe, Sugarbush and Smugglers', closed their daycare facilities for this season. Jay Peak and Mad River Glen provide daycare for children 6 weeks to 6 years old at reduced capacity, with a reservation in advance.

Food: Resorts are offering more prepackaged meals this season, with some restaurant dining by reservation. Sugarbush requires advanced online ordering for grab-and-go items with pickup times provided. Food trucks, snack shacks and outdoor pubs will be operating at many ski areas.

Base Lodges and Bathrooms: As of early December, state mandate requires that base lodge capacity be reduced to 50% of fire occupancy, with a cap of 75 people. Fewer tables and chairs will facilitate six-foot spacing between patrons. Boot rooms and bag storage are unavailable. All resorts' bathrooms are open with capacity limits.

Staying Warm: Invest in quality winter gear so you can remain comfortable longer outdoors. Carry snacks and water in a daypack, and turn your car into your personal base lodge. Here's how:

  • Suit up in the car and head straight to the lift. Shuttles will run at some resorts, with reduced capacity. Invest in ski boot protectors that fasten to the soles to prevent falls and protect plastic bottoms while walking.
  • Stash sandwiches and fruit in insulated bags to prevent freezing in the car. Keep chili and soup hot in a Thermos or Crock-Pot.
  • Bring blankets to snuggle in during breaks.
  • Keep extra hand warmers and foot warmers in the car.
  • Avoid tailgating parties with other families. Staying physically distanced will help ensure that we can continue skiing and riding all winter.

Off the Hill: Resorts plan to open some off-slope amenities, including spas and pools, but check ahead. Jay's Pump House Indoor Waterpark is open, with a limit of 75 people. (The space normally accommodates 900.) Ice-skating rinks at Jay and Stowe are open. The Bolton Valley Sports Center and Smugglers' FunZone 2.0 anticipate opening with social distancing and advance reservations.

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