How to Prepare for a Ski Season in a Pandemic

Snow is falling in the mountains, edges and attention are sharp, YouTube yule logs and enthusiasm are stoked. The ski season is underway, if stutteringly so as the base forms and new health codes go into effect.


As one of those nerds who re-upped her Ikon pass in the spring, I hope you believe how sincerely I want to have an awesome season. I can’t tell you whether the resorts are going to be able to stay open, or if it’s going to be a good snow year, or if traveling to ski is a smart idea right now. What I can tell you is how to best prepare for whatever this snow season throws at us.


Skiing is Kind of the Perfect, COVID-Safe Activity

First of all, you get to be outside which is awesome and full of lovely fresh air. Plus you’ll already be rocking the Personal Protective Equipment including helmet, goggles, a face covering, and gloves. Please mask up whenever you’re near other people, and check out resort-specific guidelines about lift, bathroom, and other communal space usage. Many resorts are implementing rules about who can be on the chairlift or gondola together, and reducing or removing inside activities. Some mountains have reservation systems in place for lift tickets and even parking, most ticket windows are closed, Shelter in Place orders come and go... Long story short, do your research on the particular resort you hope to visit before showing up. When you do get to the mountain, you might not get to hang out in the lodge any more but it’s the best way to keep you and others safe. Aprés outside is always better, anyways!

Speaking of space, your skis or snowboard give you a built-in divider between you and other humans (bonus points if you have long poles to keep people and their germs away). You don’t want to be skiing or riding near other people anyway (#nofriendsonapowderday). Time to go learn how fun glades are, or race away from others on the groomers.


Plan Ahead & Prepare

Wait isn’t that a principle of Leave No Trace? YES! Those are our commandments for the outdoors no matter the season or sport. Ways you can prepare this winter and lessen your impact (on both the resorts and the environment) include:

• Get a pass. You can support your local mountain (often the cheaper option!) Unfortunately at this point, most collective pass sales have ended, but you can see who in the pod has those sweet sweet Buddy Passes.

Lease gear and apparel for the whole family. Especially if you’ve got growing kids or want to try-before-you-buy, renting is an awesome option for gearing up for the season. If you think you’ll rent more than a couple times, season leases save you money and unnecessary trips to the store, and gives you the flexibility to head up whenever you feel like it.
• Keep an eye on weather. If a storm is coming in and conditions could look dicey, skip the drive! One of the coolest parts about living in California is the season-less ability to partake in all kinds of activities, even in winter. The desert is a lovely place to be in the middle of the winter. Or, if you're elsewhere, now's a wonderful time to get into cross country skiing, snowshoeing, even winter camping.
• Pack that PPE and get some hand sanitizer. You should already have some in your car, purse, backpack, ski bag, ski jackets, and ski pants. Maybe you don't need a bottle in all of those spots but hey, you do you.
• Make a contingency plan. It will be harder to score a last minute pow day with reservation systems in place and priority for pass holders, but it's important to follow the rules and stay safe. If you don’t have a reservation for the day (if one's required), and you don’t know what you’re doing in the backcountry, it might be a great day to go sledding, build a snowman, go for a hike or partake in any other outdoor activity instead.
• Stay local(ish). The safest option with the pandemic is to stick to your local mountain(s), and drive up and back in one go. This is not always practical and certainly not the most fun option in many cases. But where should we stay? Rental companies like AirBnB and VRBO have upped their cleaning standards and are encouraging hosts to clean extra in between guests and leave spaces vacant for a time to allow them to air out. Check on your intended rental to make sure they’re following cleaning guidelines and being safe and that they are still open when you go to cash in on your reservation.

• Other options? Many people are turning to van life right now, casually or as a lifestyle. If you go this route, make sure your space is insulated and ventilated, park in legal overnight spots, and never use your camp stove inside. Bad! I’ve seen people ski-bumming with everything from a Sprinter to a Prius (that was a wild man), and you can build a platform bed for pretty cheap.
• Another option is to (safely and legally) winter camp! Winter camping is actually really fun and way better than camping in the rain. Ever heard of an igloo, a quinzhee hut, or (ahem) a 4-season rental tent from Sporty B? Check 'em out. Snow is, oddly, a really solid form of insulation. Pairs well with cross country skis.


• If you’re tempted to get into the backcountry, make sure you prepare by taking an avalanche preparedness course and always carry a shovel, beacon and probe plus at least one friend who also has a shovel, beacon and probe. Groups of 3+ people are optimal for group safety. Just keep it in the pod, please.

• Fun fact: snowshoers are often more likely to cause avalanches because of a tendency to a) not be as prepared because it seems like such a benign activity, and b) walking straight across a face thereby displacing a sheet of ice and snow. That being said, snowshoe backpacking (or better yet cross country ski-packing) is rad and gives you some amazing access opportunities!


The Limitations can Actually Make for an Even More Fun Season

• No lodge, no restaurants, no whining, no germs, just skiing. Realistically, this situation just promoted the rules of powder day to the whole entire season.

• Fewer weekend warriors: Everyone who can is working from home, which means they can “work” from Tahoe, which means they can go up any day of the week. Which is good and bad but will likely even out traffic on and to the mountain to a degree.
• Collective pass sales and #vanlife are going strong, which would indicate continued domestic travel. If you can safely find a way to see other resorts and if we’re blessed with good snow this year, it could be a really great WFA (Work From Anywhere) time to go stay with your uncle in Vermont or your brother’s friend’s cousin’s dog groomer who hasn’t seen anyone but the dogs since March in Utah. Just spitballing here. Paul, see ya soon bud.
• A lot of resorts are already planning on taking huge safety precautions like seating a max of 2 people in a chair lift, prioritizing pass holders, and eliminating walk-up ticket purchases. No more meeting randos from Alaska on the lift but more time to bond with your partner whom you force-taught how to mountain so they can hang out with you in the winter. Or, ya know, silence is golden.
• The lodge scene is going to look very different (may not exist at all?!) so your tater tots and hot toddies might have to be consumed outside in the cold or your car, i.e. you can rack up extra danger-ops GNAR points with tots to go and first chair brekky.

I hope you’re as stoked and hopeful as me about the season ahead! Stay safe out there. 


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