This winter, it seems, everyone wants to be a skier.
Despite all the Covid-19 precautions at the region’s ski resorts—including mandatory face coverings and a cap on how many people can ski at one time—resorts in the Mid-Atlantic are seeing an increase not only in the number of experienced skiers but also the number of new and lapsed skiers looking to hit the slopes.
Skiing is a relatively safe activity during a global pandemic. You’re outdoors and naturally distant from other skiers (it would be difficult to ski within six feet of another skier), making it a perfect activity for those experiencing higher-than-normal levels of cabin fever.
Part of the surge in demand regionally may be because ski conditions have been better this year than last. “We are seeing an increase in both daily tickets and season passes,” says Alex Moser, director of marketing and communications for Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania. “The pandemic has something to do with it. Having all the slopes and trails open with tons of snow helps the most, though.”
Another factor: Many local skiers aren’t heading to Vail. “We’re seeing an uptick because people aren’t going out west because they don’t want to fly,” he says. “What’s Aspen’s loss is our gain. What’s Vail’s loss is our gain.” Moser says a return to what he dubs “Pennsylvania powder” may feel a bit different than the fluffy powder out west. But skiing is skiing, right?
Still, be prepared for changes in how you skied in previous years. Among them:
Walking up to the ticket office on the day you’re looking to ski? Not a great idea. Most area resorts are encouraging skiers to buy lift tickets online in advance—two ski resorts, Seven Springs and Snowshoe, require it—in order to guarantee a spot on the mountain. Many resorts are implementing capacity limits to ensure crowding doesn’t occur. With limited tickets and more demand, resorts including Wintergreen, Massanutten, Wisp, Seven Springs, and Snowshoe say they are selling out weekends. Kenny Hess, director of sports and safety at Massanutten Resort in Virginia, says the mountain typically sells out of weekend tickets three or four days prior. Snowshoe is currently sold out almost every weekend day in February. Once you do have a lift ticket in hand, you usually can ride the chairlift only with members of your own party.
In a sport where keeping your face warm is a constant struggle, face coverings are no big deal. “One of the most heavily opinionated topics during Covid-19 is wearing a face mask,” says Mark Moody, marketing manager at Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia. “Everybody that’s skiing the mountain, you’re already wearing a face mask, and it’s to help keep your face warm, so it’s no skin off their back, they’re fine [with it].”
Resorts are seeing an uptick in the number of skiers interested in purchasing season passes. The reason? At most resorts, season-pass holders don’t need a lift-ticket reservation—they can just show up. At Seven Springs, a regular full-season pass for an adult costs $613, while an all-day weekend lift ticket costs $91. “People are interested in paying a bit more for the convenience right now,” Moser says. “If you have your own skis, if you have your season pass, you don’t need to go inside. You can just get right out of your car and go on the slopes.”
Rentals and Lessons
An influx of new and lapsed skiers has meant that rentals and lessons are more popular than in previous seasons. Most ski resorts are still holding group lessons (at a reduced capacity), as well as private and semi-private. “Our rental department has been busy all season and the local ski shops are seeing strong sales as well,” says Shawn Cassell, at Snowshoe resort in West Virginia. “The biggest difference this [year] has been the higher than usual demand midweek.”
Dining on the Slopes
If skiing for you isn’t complete without that cup of hot chocolate loaded with marshmallows, you’re in luck. While most ski resorts are still offering indoor dining, some restrictions apply, including allowing only 50 percent of indoor capacity and, in the case of Canaan Valley, instituting a 30-minute table limit. Meanwhile, at Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort and Maryland’s Wisp Resort, skiers can order food to-go through the mountains’ apps, to eat outside or in their car. Massanutten added additional dining options on the mountain to allow skiers to space out.
The most important thing to do if you’re interested in hitting the slopes this season is to call ahead, says Hess, of Massanutten. “We still have people that show up occasionally on days we’re sold out, and they’re in disbelief,” says Hess. “They’re like, ‘What do you mean you’re sold out?’ It’s like, what rock have you been under?”