Skiers are looking for a little extra privacy, exploring the backcountry and staying longer this year so plan ahead to make your ski vacation as fun and low-stress as can be.
Last year, ski resorts across the United States thoughtfully and successfully opened during the pandemic, requiring masks on mountains and social distancing indoors. Although the après-ski scene was limited, skiers and snowboarders relished the opportunity to shred on the mountains and get some much needed outdoor activity.
Most Americans are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but with ongoing concerns about new variants and breakthrough cases, there’s no telling when we’ll be out of the woods. Travelers need to be prepared and understand the health and safety protocols that are in place to protect themselves and the mountain communities they’re visiting.
Across the country, some new trends and creative solutions that emerged last winter will continue to be popular to ensure that ski vacations remain safe and fun.
Planning will be essential this winter. Some ski resorts may still require advance reservations, while others like Breckenridge, Colorado, will have daily lift tickets for sale and Park City Mountain in Utah will be providing more flexibility for last-minute visits with discounted day passes. Check ski area websites for the most up-to-date information before your trip.
“We encourage everyone to do their research ahead of time,” says Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director at Colorado Ski Country USA, representing 22 different ski areas. “Visit ski area websites, social media and other channels to understand current ticket availability and any other Covid-19 specific policies or restrictions at ski areas including guest behavior expectations during their visit.”
Advanced reservations may be required rather than recommended for activities, including dining and hotel amenities. For example, coveted heated outdoor patio seating at RIME in the St. Regis Deer Valley in Utah will need to be reserved well in advance, especially during their popular Sunday brunch with live music.
Consider skipping the rental shop and taking advantage of rental delivery. Black Tie Ski Rentals delivers to 46 resorts across the country and can arrange in-room fittings. They offer the latest technology, like Bluetooth-enabled heated boots, plus higher performance options that are appreciated by more accomplished skiers.
Rather than taking several shorter ski vacations to different destinations this year, longer stays will be more common, especially as many companies continue to allow employees to work remotely. In Aspen, The Little Nell is offering up to 25% discounts for extended stays and stays longer than 30 days have sales tax waived as well. The Nell’s six luxury suites and 26 residences all come with a desk, personal computer, monitor and printer and the concierge desk accommodates printing requests.
Many luxurious ski-in ski-out hotels also offer residences, which are a great option for extended stays. For example, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe has 12 two and three-bedroom residences in the rental pool that are ideal for families and St. Regis Deer Valley has 67 hotel condominiums ranging from one to four bedrooms, with native stone fireplaces, chestnut floors and 9-foot ceilings. There are also 34 private residences with heated bathroom floors, multiple fireplaces and spectacular kitchens outfitted with Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances plus an under-counter wine refrigerator.
At a more economical price point, Hyatt Centric Park City has one- to four-bedroom residences available to rent as well, with contactless check-in and curated meditations from Headspace on the World of Hyatt app.
While many elements of resort skiing remain up in the air, serious skiers and snowboarders are taking a proactive approach to guarantee powder access by planning backcountry skiing trips.
“Backcountry is defined as any terrain outside of resorts which is not controlled and has no avalanche mitigation,” explains Abe Pacharz, owner and lead guide at Colorado Adventure Guides. “While the backcountry is a great alternative to lift-access skiing, it is inherently dangerous and requires a continuing education, experience, and humility.” Simply put, this isn’t an entry level sport.
Colorado Adventure Guides offers Intro to Backcountry courses and AIARE avalanche lessons in Breckenridge. It’s imperative that skiers don’t go into the backcountry without taking safety classes. “Many new users may not even know when they are in a risky situation or when conditions are not suitable for a given objective,” Pacharz says. Even after taking courses, going into the backcountry with a knowledgeable and experienced guide who has prepared an itinerary, checked the weather, route and avalanche forecast is recommended.
For those planning their own adventures, Colorado is home to one of the most extensive backcountry hut systems in North America, with more than 30 huts across 350 miles of U.S. Forest Service trails. The 10th Mountain Division Huts have reduced maximum occupancy, increased disinfecting and are only allowing single-party groups to use the huts at one time to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Bluebird Backcountry combines the best elements of true backcountry with the basic comforts and amenities of traditional ski areas. With backcountry gear rentals and lessons, a professional ski patrol and avalanche education and instruction, it’s a great option for backcountry beginners.
Beyond skiing and snowboarding, there is so much to do in the backcountry that is accessible for anyone visiting this winter. Activities like backcountry snowshoeing, cross country skiing, winter hiking, Nordic snow cat tours, snowmobiling, and dog sledding are fun for all ages and abilities. Aspen Snowmass and Breckenridge have the best Nordic ski centers in Colorado, while The Home Ranch near Steamboat and Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Winter Park are remote resorts with world-class cross-country skiing. Hotel Jackson can arrange private snowshoeing or snowmobiling experiences in Grand Teton National Park.
Privacy is Paramount
For elevated dining experiences that are comfortable and safe, restaurants are getting creative and redefining private dining rooms. Park City is dotted with picturesque Alpenglobes including at Butcher’s Chop House & Bar and Stein Eriksen Lodge. The W Aspen is offering private dining in its rooftop poolside cabanas along with enclosed geo domes with Aspen Mountain views for up to eight guests.
Savvy skiers are also seeking out less frequented ski destinations and less crowded slopes. Big Sky, Montana, is especially hot this year with the new Montage Big Sky bringing an elevated level of luxury to the region, including private ski lockers, ski butler service and ski-in, ski-out access to Big Sky Resort’s 5,800 skiable acres.
Closer to Home
Looking to keep it local? Check out these resorts that are a short trip from Chicago:
Chestnut Mountain Resort
8700 W Chestnut Mountain Rd, Galena, IL
Alpine Valley Resort
W2501 Co Rd D, Elkhorn, WI
Devil’s Head Resort
S6330 Bluff Rd, Merrimac, WI
Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort
11931 Fox River Rd, Wilmot, WI
12500 Crystal Mountain Dr., Thompsonville, MI
397 Brule Mountain Rd, Iron River, MI
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Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley.