Most California ski resorts are scheduled to open in November—with Palisades Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain leading the pack on October 29—and this winter's season will seem like a return to the good old days.
Snow lovers will enjoy expanded services and fewer COVID-19-related regulations and modifications than last winter. That means no outdoor masking requirements, no reservations required to get on the slopes, chairlifts and gondolas operating at full capacity, and a lot more choices for warming up indoors with hot cocoa or a cozy meal. Big events like freestyle competitions and winterfest celebrations are even making a comeback.
"As long as Mother Nature cooperates a little bit, I think there's a really good chance we will have one of the best seasons ever," says Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California, a non-profit industry association representing more than 30 ski resorts.
Most resorts still have protocols in place for indoor activities, and these vary across destinations. Always be prepared for possible changes and updates: Before you hit the slopes, visit your resort's website or social media channels for the most up-to-date information.
Outdoors: It's Snow Business as Usual
"This year, everyone's planning on the outdoor experience basically returning to normal. Right now, I'm not seeing any of the resorts planning on masking requirements for anything that guests do outdoors," Reitzell says.
With social distancing requirements lifted for outdoor activities, chairlifts and gondolas will operate at full capacity, which means lift lines should be short and sweet. Even better, last-minute deciders will have an easier time scoring fresh powder. Unlike last winter, Vail Resorts' properties, including Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood, will not require skiers to book advance reservations.
Only one California resort, Sugar Bowl, will limit the number of skiers on its slopes by selling advance-purchase tickets only. The resort will release tickets approximately one month in advance: December tickets will go online in early November, and January tickets will go online in early December.
At all other California resorts, including Palisades Tahoe, skiers will be able to buy same-day tickets, but the resorts want you to buy them online even if you do so as you drive to the resort. Reitzell says walk-up ticket windows are becoming a thing of the past.
"Buying tickets online is going to be a permanent change going forward,” he says. “It's so easy to buy tickets on your phone or even just using electronic kiosks when you arrive at the resort.”
That applies to rentals and lessons, too—it's much easier to book equipment and even lesson sessions online to avoid waiting and to ensure what you want is available. Resorts are offering their full line-up of lessons this winter, both in group and private format.
Indoors: Mask Requirements and Other Protocols
At the majority of resorts, guests will need to mask up when they step into the lodge for a warm-up snack, ride a shuttle bus, visit the rental shop, or even just take a restroom break.
"The resorts are still acting on the cautious side for indoor activities. They're trying to provide an experience that all of our guests are comfortable with, no matter what county they're from or what the policies are like where they live," Reitzell says.
Some resorts are requiring face coverings indoors due to internal policies while others are located in counties that have mask mandates for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. At June Mountain and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, communications director Lauren Burke specifies that "indoor dining will be open across the resort, but masks are required indoors per Mono County Health Department mandate."
Vail Resorts will take a step further to ensure guest and employee safety at Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood. In late September, CEO Rob Katz announced that "this season, our COVID-19 safety protocols are focused on indoor spaces." The company will require proof of vaccination for guests ages 12 and older to dine at indoor restaurants, including quick-service cafeterias. All transactions must be cashless, and dining reservations will be required (book up to one day in advance or make reservations on site using QR signage). Skiers who aren't vaccinated will still be able to purchase food and drinks at outdoor eateries on the mountain.
Across the state's resorts, on-mountain restaurants and bars will open with much more seating capacity than last season, and guests will be able to use their phones for mobile food ordering to save waiting in line.
Know Before You Go
Because of the differences in how resorts are handling their indoor services, Reitzell reminds skiers that last winter's "know before you go" campaign still applies this year. "Before skiers go to a particular resort, they should always check on what that resort's policies and procedures are going to be."
Before traveling, be sure to check out Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub.