It's been a little over a year since our world was turned upside down by the current Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, so many things just aren't the way they used to be. This is particularly true of the ski and snowboard industry. Having been shut down abruptly last spring, ski resorts were forced to make serious changes prior to even opening for the 2020-2021 winter season. Reservations systems, limited use of the lodges, next to no on-mountain dining, reduced capacities and more were rolled out much to the chagrin of those of us anxiously awaiting the return of our favorite pastime.
The initial reactions to these changes were not positive. The overall sentiment was that this ski season was going go to be a big bottle of suck. Surviving a season without our bougie asses being able to boot up in the lodge while sipping coffee and eating a muffin was just not possible. Or, was it? With the ski and snowboard season pretty much in our rearview mirror by now, it is safe to say that these changes did not ruin it, at least not from my point of view. In fact, this ski season was as good as any that I have had in recent years, directly benefiting from the changes that were originally instituted. With this in mind, here are my five positive takeaways from skiing amidst the pandemic.
1. The Bathrooms in the Lodge Were Clean
*Sorry, a pic of a bathroom would have been a bit creepy so I just went with more tailgating.
Normally bathrooms in ski resort lodges are pretty gross. A disgusting mess of water and dirt always seems to sit on the floor like some sort of permanent film. The toilets themselves...well they are no prize either often sending us searching for a more private bathroom on the resort. In fact, Snowbasin is the only resort the I've ever been to where the bathroom lodges just might be cleaner that yours at home (those of you that have been, you know what I'm talking about). That is until this winter.
Thanks to Covid and the overwhelming desire to prevent the transfer of disease, ski resort bathrooms around the country got the cleaning that they've deserved for years. Seriously, I'm not joking. Having visited at least nine different resorts this winter, I found the bathrooms at each and every one to be cleaner than ever. It was nice to walk in and see the actual tile on the floor or not have God knows what all over the toilets. Maybe this is something we can keep up on for the foreseeable future. Just saying.
2. Shorter Lift Lines
I might get crucified for this one. Sorry, but I barely waited in any lift lines all season. Yes, I've seen the social media posts with lift lines at certain Vail Resorts that were as long as the Nile River. This just was not my experience. I even own an Epic Pass and skied at a few of their resorts this winter. Sorry, no lift lines on my end. In fact, the longest lift line I stood in all season was on Presidents' Day which is notorious for major delays (side note, I was not at a Vail Resort that day). Even the lines that day were only about 10 minutes long, 15 minutes at the most.
Yes, they backed up a bit in the base area, but once you got out of there it was smooth sailing. In many cases I would ski down and get right back on. Turns out, reducing the capacity at the resorts really has its benefits.
3. Less Crowded Ski Slopes
Peter Parker once said, "with shorter lift lines comes less crowded slopes." Okay, maybe that's not exactly what the Peter Parker principle is, but in the case of the 2020-2021 ski season, it's true. No matter where I went this winter, the trails were far less crowded than usual. This was a welcome surprise for a father of three daughters. I'm constantly worrying about them getting inadvertently smacked by a someone who is way out of control. It's happened twice to them and once to me and all of those times ended with some sort of injury. Predominantly an East coast skier, we're used to the crowded slopes out here but it doesn't mean that we enjoy them.
This season, it was nice to maneuver around the mountain with ease. The normally congested areas were not nearly as jammed up and the rest of the mountain was more navigable than ever. There was even one morning this winter while at Holiday Valley where we had the slopes almost all to ourselves. And it was the Sunday of Martin Luther Kind weekend! Talk about unheard of. Doesn't get much better than that.
4. Exploring New Resorts
Travel restrictions were quite the challenge this ski season. Based out of NJ, I was pretty much limited to skiing in the tri-state area. Yes, I could have gone to other states in the northeast, but the extensive required quarantine time would have forced me to take an unpaid leave from my job. Ski bum or not, this would not have been a smart move for a family man. Nonetheless, we made the best of it and saw this as an opportunity to explore new ski resorts. Largely Vermont-based skiers we ventured out of our comfort zone to ski at resorts in NY State and Pennsylvania that we have not been to much or even at all.
Trips to Holiday Valley, Gore Mountain and Catamount were a hit. Of the three, I had only been to Holiday Valley and my friends and family that I traveled with had been to none of them. Each resort offered a different experience from the other making them unique in their own way. Holiday Valley, for example, is as family friendly as they come. The skiing is manageable yet challenging for all abilities, the lodges are spectacular and the town of Ellicottville is arguably the best ski town in the East. Whereas in contrast, Gore Mountain is a bit more isolated. While there isn't as much going on après-ski as there is in Ellicottville, the terrain at Gore is legit and highly underrated for those who don't know.
If Covid did not prevent us from traveling to Vermont until late in the season, it is highly unlikely that we would have visited either resort or Catamount (which is also a great spot). That said, I'm glad we did and you can guarantee that will be back at all of these new-found resorts again soon.
5. Revival of the Après-Ski Tailgate Party
What's a ski day without après-ski? Well, we almost found out this winter. Bars and restaurants on most mountains were either closed or operating in a limited manner. Off mountain, capacity limits were in play all winter long. And standing at the bar having a drink had become a thing of the past. Gone were the days of boot dancing elbow to elbow with strangers, but a ski day without après-ski is no ski day at all. So like true ski bums, we pivoted and brought back the après-ski tailgate party.
Normally a staple of spring skiing, this winter the time of year, nor the temperature didn't seem to matter. Everywhere I went, there was some sort of tailgating going on. Some of the gatherings were as simple as a couple of buddies having some beers and chips. Others, like the one that I did with Camp Chef and Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, were full fledged tailgate parties with close friends or family. Either way, the tailgate scene was back and I loved it!
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
When these changes and restrictions were all put into place last fall, there was no doubt that we all thought this season was going to be terrible. Maybe so much so, that people even skipped out on it this year. I'm not going to lie, there were certain components that really did suck. The inability to always go in a lodge when you wanted in order to warm up was a bit of a pain in the ass, especially with kids. However, overall I'd like to look at the positives and think that this was still a really good ski season highlighted by the above bi-products. The pandemic forced resorts to get creative and they responded in a really good way. A way that will hopefully continue to improve the industry moving forward.
Did you have a positive experience this ski season? Let us know what your big takeaways were in the comments below.
That said, my ski bum days have ended for the year and it's time to move on to beach bum mode. There's no better way to celebrate the upcoming summer months than with our Après Surf T-Shirt. It's all about sand, sun and surf the second you put it on.
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