If you’re going to ski, here’s how to do it safely in the pandemic

Nov 30, 2020, 7:35 AM | Updated: 8:02 am
Backcountry skiers Jake Turnbull, left, Santiago Vega and Jason Malczyk walk back to their cars aft...
Backcountry skiers Jake Turnbull, left, Santiago Vega and Jason Malczyk walk back to their cars after skiing at Alta Ski Area at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon on Monday, June 8, 2020. Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    (CNN) — Avid snowboarder Jenny Leveille doesn’t plan to rely on ski resorts’ indoor facilities this season. This decision, she believes, will give her a possible advantage when it comes to coronavirus and swirling concerns over indoor exposure.

Leveille, who’ll be heading to the mountains out West after Thanksgiving in Michigan, plans to return to her van — which includes a bathroom — when she needs a break for fuel or relief.

“I’m hoping to have at least 50 days this year at as many resorts in the western US as possible,” the 30-year-old said.

Ski season is underway, and changes are afoot.

In Europe, Germany, hard hit by Covid-19, is aiming for a coordinated European Union approach to keeping ski resorts shut in Alpine countries for the holiday season in order to limit the spread of coronavirus. However, reaching an agreement with neighboring Austria is proving challenging, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated last Thursday, as CNN previously reported.

Meanwhile, some slopes have opened in Switzerland, which is not an EU member. The “future for the upcoming winter season looks bright,” Mayor of Zermatt Romy Biner-Hauser told CNN on Thursday.

With its wide-open spaces, stashes of powder and even covering up to brave the elements, skiing might seem like the perfect pandemic sport — if the proper precautions are taken.

A face mask, a standard part of the skier’s uniform, is a requirement this year. Resorts are implementing mask mandates except while guests are actively eating and drinking. Ski destinations are also limiting indoor capacity, adding outdoor capacity, adding hand-sanitizing stations on chair lift lines and reconfiguring how chair lifts are filled.

Even with those enhanced safety protocols on the mountain and in the resorts, though, the question remains: Is it safe to ski during a pandemic?

For Dr. Joshua Rosenberg, it’s not so black and white.

“Every thing you do has a risk, a benefit and a potential hazard,” said Rosenberg, an infectious disease specialist and chair of infection control at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York. That includes skiing, which is inherently risky even without a raging pandemic.

An avid skier himself, Rosenberg plans to hit the slopes this season. Here’s what he recommends if you want to join him and stay safe.

Indoor pit stops

While skiing is definitely an outdoor sport, skiers still like to head inside to resort lodges to eat, drink hot chocolate and adjust their ski boots. And to be sure, après-ski hangouts around a warm, cozy fireplace are as much a part of the experience as enjoying the slopes.

This year, however, there will be less opportunity to head inside and a greater risk attached to doing so. “We certainly know that getting together indoors in large crowds does lead to viral spreading, and super-spreading,” Rosenberg said.

Resorts around the world are responding accordingly.

Ski California, a trade association that represents resorts across California and in Nevada, reports that food and beverage offerings will be available this year, but they won’t look like years past, thanks to reduced indoor capacity.

Its member resorts will promote outdoor dining, offer “grab-and-go” food and drink, and recommend use of skiers’ own personal vehicles instead of the lodge this season.

Some Colorado resorts are also encouraging using the car as a home base, according to Chris Linsmayer with Colorado Ski. That’s where they recommend skiers eat lunch if they want to get out of the cold.

Hanging out outside

Given limited capacity indoors, many resorts are planning to upgrade their outdoor dining and lounging options — think fire pits and heat lamps.

Telluride in Colorado will be sprucing up old gondola cars and using them to seat family members and friend groups.

The popular restaurants Chez Vrony and Paradise in Zermatt, Switzerland, already have ample outdoor seating, but prior to the pandemic, they were typically crowded with throngs of people. This year, fewer diners will be allowed on the charming terraces and patios, making hard-to-snag reservations even more coveted.

There is no après-ski in Switzerland’s resorts at the moment and currently dining is only happening in hotels, according to previous CNN reporting. Restaurants may open up starting December 13. Instead resorts are selling beer and wine to go, to perhaps be enjoyed by guests around one of the aforementioned fire pits.

Resort staff hope that will take some of the stress off of generally crowded lodges and cafeterias if and when they open up, where it’s not unusual to see people from different parties crowded together at the same table during peak lunch hours.

The resorts’ outdoor offerings will make it easier to skip being inside for any prolonged period of time, Rosenberg said.

Rentals, lessons and lines

Since renting equipment typically takes place indoors, many resorts have moved to a reservation system. That means visitors need to book rental appointments and reserve lift tickets in advance, with priority access going to passholders.

At Colorado’s Steamboat in Steamboat Springs, advance reservations will be required for ski and snowboard rental equipment with specific fitting times.

Sanitation efforts will be increased as well.

At Alta Badia in the Dolomites in Italy, protective screens have been put in place in the rental shops, and the resort guarantees daily sanitization of spaces and materials. Italy, however, has sided with Germany in the push to close resorts for the holiday season, but the determination by EU countries has yet to be resolved.

Rosenberg isn’t worried about rental equipment — except for the helmet. If you plan to ski or ride this year, consider buying your own helmet, because the item’s proximity to the face may be reason enough to shell out $20 for a budget option.

Say no to the hot tub

Many resorts will not be letting guests take advantage of a popular cold-weather amenity: the hot tub.

While there is no blanket ban on hot tubs throughout the town of Mammoth Lakes in California, Mammoth Mountain will not have communal hot tubs open at its lodging properties, a Mammoth spokesperson told CNN.

Rosenberg thinks this is a wise decision and admits he wouldn’t partake in the traditional post-ski hot tub soak even if it were available to him.

People tend to congregate there, and that’s not safe, he said.

Personal responsibility

While resorts are putting protocols in place, they are also counting on individual guests to act responsibly. That’s why you need to stay home if you wake up and are not feeling well, Rosenberg said.

As for getting your money back, refunds and rain checks are up to the individual resorts.

Maine passholders this season qualify for the Worry-Free Winter Assurance program, which guarantees 150 days of skiing at Sunday River and Sugarloaf, and the option to roll over the value of their current season pass toward next year’s pass if requested before December 10.

Most purchases at Copper Mountain in Colorado are nonrefundable from the time of purchase. But people who cancel on or before the originally scheduled arrival will be issued a voucher for the full value of their original reservation, good for one year.

Rosenberg hopes people looking for a cold-weather activity will play it safe. “We can’t lock ourselves in a bubble,” he said, noting that skiing is “one of the few joys” some people get in winter.

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How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronaviruses transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States


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If you’re going to ski, here’s how to do it safely in the pandemic