(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.
Jenny Leveille’s snowboard season got cut short last year due to the pandemic and ensuing shutdowns, but she plans to hit the slopes again after Thanksgiving.
Courtesy Jenny Leveille
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.
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.
Being outside on an uncrowded mountain may tempt many skiers this year, but there are still Covid-related risks.
Courtesy Copper Mountain
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.
Many resorts are planning on increasing outdoor space so guests can take a break or grab a bite since indoor capacities will be greatly reduced.
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.
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.
Masks are required at all times across most ski resorts around the world.
Courtesy of Joey Wallis
Sanitation efforts will be increased as well.
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
Aspen’s nightlife won’t be the same this year as in pre-Covid times.
Daniel Bayer/Aspen Skiing Company
Many resorts will not be letting guests take advantage of a popular cold-weather amenity: the hot tub.
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.
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.
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.