Christian Corsini wasn’t sure what to expect at the start of the last ski season or whether he would be able to ride. With COVID a persistent concern and activities in the region off limits because of the pandemic, the 32-year-old Los Angeles County firefighter and snowboarder said Mammoth Mountain, his favorite resort, “had an unusual vibe, for sure.”
“All in all, though, I had a good season other than a broken collar bone that kept me off the snow for a while,” said Corsini, who works out of Gardena. “Mammoth staff in the lift lines made sure everyone had their faces covered. I don’t think they liked having to be the ‘mask police,’ but it seemed that most folks, though not all, cooperated willingly because they didn’t want the resort to be shut down. And while I froze my butt off a couple of times eating dinner and having drinks outside, I was glad I was able to ride.”
This season, he’s feeling a lot better about skiing. He has already visited Mammoth, about 300 miles north of Los Angeles on the east side of the Sierra north of Bishop. The resort opened in late October after a major snowstorm. On Wednesday, Corsini was at the resort again, where the snow was waist-deep. (More snow is forecast for next week.)
Corsini said he noticed a change in the atmosphere this season. “Masks are still required inside unless you are eating and drinking, but it just seems a lot more normal,” he said. “Thank goodness. I plan on going up there a bunch.”
Although the more-onerous pandemic mandates from last year have been dropped, resorts in the West are maintaining some changes, such as the technology that made for shorter lift lines, contactless reservations and payments, and more outdoor dining and grab-and-go food options.
With COVID numbers rising after Thanksgiving get-togethers and because of the Omicron variant, skiers and boarders should check with their resorts to see if any rules have changed. The season’s motto could be: “Know before you go.”
Despite the ongoing precautions, Lauren Burke, a spokesperson for Mammoth, is predicting a big ski year. She said skiers and snowboarders were grateful the resort operated last year. “I was too,” she said. “We were in a peak mitigation world then. It was a welcome relief from the madness of COVID for people to be outside skiing and riding in a pretty safe environment.”
In addition to mask mandates and no indoor dining, she said the resort limited the number of lift tickets sold. All products, including lessons and rentals, had to be purchased in advance.
The biggest bummer, she said, was the six-week, stay-at-home order, “which essentially closed all short-term lodging in Mono County during the peak holiday period. So it was definitely far from a normal season last year. We were just grateful to be able to keep the lifts spinning.
“And now, things seem pretty much back to normal with the exception of masks being required indoors,” she said. “If all goes well, we’ll even be able to host the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix from Jan. 6-8, which is the last qualifying competition for the half-pipe and slopestyle skiing and snowboarding events at the Winter Olympics, which will be held in China in February.”
Big Bear Mountain Resort spokesperson Justin Kanton said he’s hoping most of the rules imposed last season won’t be necessary this season.
“We required guests to buy passes, lessons and rentals online in ad vance to limit human contact,” said Kanton about the resort, which includes Snow Summit and Bear Mountain and is 100 miles east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains. “We had no walk-up sales of any kind. We also had limitations on the number of tickets sold and had indoor mask mandates. But the change that threw people off was that we required all guests who were physically in the base areas at both Bear Mountain and Snow Summit to have a valid lift ticket or season pass.
“In a normal season, we see a lot of general guest traffic coming through who have never been to the mountains, never seen snow and just want to get a sense of what the winter environment is like up here,” Kanton said. “We had to restrict that to only paid guests like at a theme park. You can’t just walk around Disneyland. You have to buy a ticket to enter.”
Last year, dining options, for example, were limited, creating the motto at Big Bear and many other resorts that “your car is your cabin.” Skiers and boarders were encouraged to bring their own food or get takeout and eat in their vehicles.
“We don’t plan on having those restrictions at this point, though obviously things are fluid and subject to change,” Kanton said. “And we will require masks indoors unless you’re actively eating or drinking. We really do hope to have a more normal operation for the season.”
At Vail Resorts, which includes Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood near Lake Tahoe and Utah’s Park City, spokesperson Sara Roston said dining options last year at its California resorts were limited to grab-and-go. “We had masking and other rules, too, but the big thing this season is that everything should be fully operational and we’ll be running at full capacity again.”
This season, guests will need to book reservations to eat at many of Vail’s on-mountain restaurants using the “Time to Dine” reservation service. Also, guests can book reservations the day before on resort dining webpages, the EpicMix app or through QR codes at resorts.
“And while vaccinations won’t be required to ski or snowboard, anyone 12 years of age or older will need to show they have been vaccinated to dine at indoor, cafeteria-style restaurants,” Roston said.
Like last season at most resorts, face coverings will be required in indoor settings, including resort restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, retail, rental locations, as well as on buses. However, they won’t be mandated outdoors in lift lines or on chairlifts unless required by local public health authorities. The 33 resorts that belong to the Ski California trade group say they require face coverings outdoors whenever physical distancing cannot be achieved.
Vail Resorts also owns the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast. The resort was closed part of last season because of the pandemic but, according to Roston, will be operating this year “full steam ahead for big-mountain skiing and riding.”
Special events are a large part of the ski culture at resorts such as Heavenly and Whistler, and these festive activities and get-togethers will be offered again, including DJ Cat and Helly Hansen’s Après Ski Tracks at Heavenly as well as Tost and Spring It On at Northstar and Kirkwood’s live music series.
In Utah, a popular destination for California skiers and snowboarders, last season saw record-breaking numbers at the state’s 15 resorts despite — or because of — the pandemic.
“We had 5.3 million skier and rider visits, up from 5.1 million during the 2018-2019 season,” said Alison Palmintere, a spokesperson for Ski Utah, the marketing arm for the state’s ski and snowboard resorts. “Clearly, people wanted to be outside to enjoy the snow. Skiing and snowboarding provided a physical and mental respite from the pandemic. Though there were a lot of rules, people cooperated so we could keep the lifts moving.”
Masks won’t be required outdoors at Utah resorts, she said. Indoor regulations this season will vary by ski area, said Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah’s president. “I think it’s a really safe bet to tuck a mask in your pocket and make sure you know what the protocols at resorts are because they’re really going to vary this year.”
With this season’s ski season underway, here’s what’s new at a sampling of Western resorts.
Mammoth Mountain (mammothmountain.com, 10001 Minaret Road, Mammoth Lakes) has new air service out of the Bishop airport, about 45 miles south of the resort. United will offer daily service to and from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver starting Sunday. In addition, Advanced Air is now flying into Mammoth from Burbank and Carlsbad four days a week and Hawthorne three days a week.
Big Bear (bigbearmountainresort.com, 43101 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake) has a new, free trolley service that stops at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Other additions include a ropes course, a mobile app, and radio-frequency identification technology for easier reloading of lift tickets and quicker lift access.
Snow Valley Mountain Resort (snow-valley.com, 35100 Highway 18, Running Springs) has installed a 100-foot moving surface lift in the Children’s Learning Center, expanded its Snow Play sledding area and added Head rental equipment.
Mountain High (mthigh.com, 24510 State Highway 2, Wrightwood) spent nearly $1 million to improve snowmaking, added terrain park features, expanded its snowplay area, and added tubing lanes and sledding terrain.
Palisades Tahoe (palisadestahoe.com, 1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley) changed its name this fall from Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. (The old moniker was deemed racist and sexist toward Indigenous women.) In addition, the resort has added an all-mountain expert camp and a moving surface lift in the High Camp beginner area.
Aspen Snowmass (aspensnowmass.com, 601 E. Dean St., Aspen) is celebrating its 75th anniversary Jan. 9-11 at the Wheeler Opera House. United Airlines is adding daily nonstop flights between Orange County’s John Wayne Airport and Aspen that will operate through March 26. The resort has introduced its Aspenx outerwear clothing line. (Also, the Limelight Hotel in Aspen has been renovated.)
Beaver Creek (beavercreek.com, 26 Avondale Lane, Avon) has added 250 acres of lift-served terrain for novice and intermediate skiers in the family-friendly McCoy Park area. It features 17 trails plus 12.5 miles of Nordic and snowshoe trails.
Breckenridge (breckenridge.com, 1599 Saw Mill Run Road, Breckenridge) has installed a detachable chairlift — the Freedom SuperChair — on Peak 7 to give better access to novice and mid-level terrain.
Copper Mountain (coppercolorado.com, 509 Copper Road, Copper Mountain) has opened easy terrain for novices and families on the west side of the mountain and dubbed it the Western Territory. It features two trails and two “adventure zones.”
Steamboat (steamboat.com, 2305 Mt. Werner Circle, Steamboat Springs) has launched its $135-million Full Steam Ahead project to revamp its base and add a gondola.
Keystone (keystoneresort.com, 100 Dercum Drive, Dillon) has replaced the old Peru Express with a six-person lift to ease base congestion.
Telluride (telluride.com, 565 Mountain Village Blvd., Telluride) has created 40 acres of beginner and intermediate skiing in the Grouse Glades area and plowed $1 million into its snowmaking system to cover 60 additional acres.
Park City Mountain Resort (parkcitymountain.com, 1345 Lowell Ave., Park City) is a partner in a project intended to provide renewable energy for 100% of its electricity usage by 2023. The 80-megawatt solar farm project, known as Elektron Solar, broke ground in late October.
Deer Valley (deervalley.com, 2250 Deer Valley Drive South, Park City) will require skiers to wear face masks on the Jordanelle gondola. It has revamped its Snow Park Restaurant menu.
Alta (alta.com, 10041 E. State Highway 210, Alta) has widened the Corkscrew trail and beefed up snowmaking in the Wildcat base area.
Snowbird (snowbird.com, 9385 S. Snowbird Center Drive, Snowbird) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season with a variety of activities.
Solitude Mountain Resort (solitudemountain.com, 12000 Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, Solitude) is opening three chairlifts an hour earlier than usual — at 8 a.m. — on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
Sundance Mountain Resort (sundanceresort.com, 8841 N. Alpine Loop Road, Provo Canyon) was sold by Robert Redford to new owners last year. They’ve added a high-speed, four-person chair, a beginner area with three surface lifts, snow guns and a snowmaking pond. Also new is the S-Card, an RFID-enabled pass that reloads at a discount automatically and lets you skip lift lines.
Snowbasin (snowbasin.com, 3925 E. Snow Basin Road, Huntsville) has replaced a three-person chair, the Middle Bowl, with a high-speed “six-pack” that will double capacity and reduce ride time from 12 minutes to six.
Jackson Hole (jacksonhole.com, 3395 W. Cody Lane, Teton Village) added snowmaking capacity and locker facilities and widened some trails. It will limit capacity on busy days. It’s encouraging visitors to purchase day tickets in advance online and is mandating reservations for Ikon and Mountain Collective passholders. Because the resort’s tram carries 100 people, riders will be required to wear masks.
Grand Targhee (grandtarghee.com, 3300 E. Ski Hill Road, Alta) spent more than $20 million on renovations to the Teewinot Lodge, the new Peaked Chairlift, employee housing and other projects.
Whistler Blackcomb (whistlerblackcomb.com, 4545 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, B.C.) skiers and riders can now access interactive trail maps with grooming status, real-time weather, on-mountain GPS location and statistics tracking with the new EpicMix Time app. The resort has also added programs for women this season, including the North Face Women’s Ski Camp and the Showcase Women’s Snowboard Camps. Non-skiing visitors can do self-guided strolls featuring stops from art galleries to nature walks at Go Whistler Tours.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort (revelstokemountainresort.com, 204B W. 1st St., Revelstoke, B.C.) will require all guests and staff to be fully vaccinated to ski or snowboard at the resort. Those found without a valid COVID-19 immunization record will be banned from the resort for the duration of the season. The resort also reserves the right to conduct spot-checks for proof of COVID-19 immunization status at any time.