Outdoors is where we want to be this winter. Here’s how a safe and sane ski season is shaping up in the West.

By Sabina Dana Plasse

Ready to hit the slopes? Here is some intel on what’s happening at some of our favorite downhill destinations. But first, this: “Californians are encouraged to stay home or in their region and avoid non-essential travel to other states or countries. Avoiding travel can reduce the risk of virus transmission and bringing the virus back to California.” —California Department of Public Health

It’s the time of the year when thoughts turn to bumps, top-to-bottom runs, and covering terrain from lodge-to-lodge, with interludes of après excellence: supping on alpine fare and sipping energizing spirits. The good news for those looking for (and comfortable with) an escape is that most of the parks and resorts will be open, with lots of fresh air and exercise offering a fresh reset on 2020. 

Still, it’s safe to say that the ski and snowboard season is going to be different this year. You may need advance ticket purchases and gear reservations. Offerings at lodges and slope-side eateries will be limited. Still,  mountain sports take place in spacious areas, out in the open where air flows. And with participants already comfortable with covered faces, skiing and boardriding will still be epic, just a little farther apart and with a few more rules than usual.


At the top of this year’s ski season list is the fabled, prestigious, and original North American destination ski resort, Sun Valley, which has been named as the top ski resort in the 2021 Annual Ski Resort Awards by SKI Magazine. Founded in 1936, this is the first time the resort has been given this achievement. “This award reflects hard work and commitment to this great ski resort,” says General Manager Tim Silva. “We look forward to welcoming our pass holders and guests back to the Resort and onto the mountain for a safe, enjoyable, and world-class winter season.” With more than 3,400 vertical feet and over 2,000 acres of skiable terrain on “Baldy,” there will be an increase to almost 2,500 acres with the Bald Mountain Expansion of Sunrise—the largest expansion project in the U.S. for this year’s ski season. Baldy has 12 chairlifts, including the new high-speed Broadway quad, and over 65 runs, and family and beginner-friendly Dollar Mountain offers two high-speed quads, a full-featured terrain park with 76 rails, and the Accelerator and the Silver Dollar Carpets for ease of access and learning appeal. Unlike many other ski mountains this season, Sun Valley will allow day-of-sale tickets. The Resort is also instituting extensive planning with yurts, storage, food carts, and other safety-friendly measures for a quality ski experience this season.


Alta Ski Area Photo by @samwatsonphotos

At Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, advance purchase lift tickets or passes (including Deer Valley Season, Ikon Pass, and Ikon Base Passes) are the only way to access the mountain this winter season. For those using daily lift tickets, they must be purchased online well in advance to guarantee the best rate and avoid disappointment. Face coverings are expected from all visitors, including when interacting with any staff. The resort is consistently recognized as the best in the industry for lodging, dining, guest service, and mountain grooming. With over 2,000 acres of varied terrain spread over six mountains, there is something for every skier.

As part of Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass, Park City Mountain, in Park City, Utah, is considered the largest single ski and snowboard resort in the United States. With 7,300 acres, over 330 trails, 43 lifts, 6 terrain parks, and ski-in-ski-out access to Main Street in Park City, it offers endless adventures for every level of skier or snowboarder to enjoy. Last season, the addition of the new Over and Out lift at Canyons Village provided even more access and accessibility. All Vail Resorts will strictly enforce face covering and physical distancing and will be implementing an easy-to-use reservation system.

In Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta Ski Area will be operating its 83rd season as the veritable ski-only mountain. With an annual snowfall of 545” and 2,614 acres of skiable terrain with 119 runs available, this is the ultimate ski destination for true die-hard skiers. Originally a silver mining hotbed turned ghost town, the slopes of Alta Ski Area were hand-selected by the famous Norwegian skier, Alf Engen. Offering fewer off-site passes for this season for safety, Alta encourages any skier to check road and parking availability and consider mid-week skiing.

Snowbasin Resort, the sister mountain to Sun Valley just north of Salt Lake City, will have no reservations required for passes and same-day ticketing unless restricting numbers is necessary. Snowbasin features championship-level skiing, with nearly 3,000 skiable acres, an average snowfall of 300 inches, and 3,000 vertical feet. It is known for wide-open bowls, gladed runs, manicured groomers, powder stashes days after a storm, excellent service, and its four terrain parks.


At 11,053 feet, Mammoth Mountain welcomes skiers and riders to enjoy one of California’s most popular winter destinations. Having invested $1 million in safety resort enhancements, new technologies, and sanitization procedures, Mammoth designed new policies and procedures to aid with physical distancing and public health to reduce contact points throughout the resort. With a host of food options, download the Mammoth Mountain app to order ahead. Ikon Pass holders will have priority access and the resort will control visitation levels of daily lift tickets, which are only available by advance purchase.

Squaw Valley /Alpine Meadows spans 6,000 skiable acres across two mountains, with stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierras. The resort is spending approximately $1 million to increase physical distancing and sanitizing across both mountains. A fleet of high-demand electrostatic sanitizing sprayers will disinfect areas around the resort, with the ability to sanitize up to 23,000 square feet on one tank. Electrostatically- charged disinfectant clings to multidimensional hard and soft surfaces, providing consistent and lasting disinfection. Guests can expect to find more outdoor seating than ever before, including expanded deck seating at Alpine Meadows Base Lodge, Gold Coast Lodge, and KT Base Bar where hundreds of new tables, chairs, heaters, umbrellas, and fire pits will be available for guests to use.

Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows | Photo by Jeff Engerbretson

At Vail Resorts in the High Sierras there are a number of quintessential ski experiences with extensive terrain and plenty of powder. On the north side of Lake Tahoe is Northstar in California. You can ski in California and Nevada, or one or the other, in South Lake Tahoe at Heavenly. A little further south of Lake Tahoe in California is Kirkwood or “the Wood.” In a good snow year, any ski resort in the Sierras is skiing at its best.


Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk are premium, sustainable, and transformative experiences in recreation, culture, and nature. At Aspen Mountain, new snowmaking is being implemented, which will provide top-to-bottom skiing and riding on a man-made snow surface for the first time. At Snowmass, along with the new Limelight Hotel Snowmass, the Big Burn lift is being replaced with a new six-passenger, high-speed chairlift. New safety protocols will be instituted across every aspect of the business.

In Colorado, experiencing the best of the Rockies skiing at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, or Keystone ski resorts is also a one-of-a-kind experience in powder. For this season, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz says, “We are fortunate that our core experience of skiing and riding takes place outdoors, across huge mountains, offering fresh air and wide-open spaces for our guests. We want to provide assurance to our guests that we will do our very best to minimize crowds at all times—be it a holiday weekend or the unpredictable powder day. We believe this approach will help ensure a safe experience for everyone, while prioritizing access for our pass holders.” | | | | |

Steamboat Ski Resort is altering a few things for this winter for safety protocols on the mountain with more grab-and-go food options and with bar service to go and at-table service only. Tickets must be purchased online and Steamboat Springs is tightly regulating stand-alone lift tickets and other products. Advanced purchase tickets, packages, and season pass products are the only way to guarantee mountain access. 

In the southwest corner of Colorado, the appeal of Telluride is its box canyon seclusion, offering a ski experience all its own that is highly sought-after by many ski and ride lovers. The resort will have temporary outdoor structures for socially-distanced food service operations, which include using old gondolas. In addition, the mountain operations team is developing a snowmaking and lift plan to safely spread skiers out around the mountain. All tickets, passes, and ski school products are available for pre-arrival purchase only.

New Mexico

Taos Ski Valley is nestled among the pristine peaks of northern New Mexico and is undergoing a $300 million renaissance, with more than 300 inches of average annual snowfall, 300 days of sunshine, and more than 1,200 skiable acres. Taos Ski Valley will operate at 25% uphill capacity for this winter season, meaning that guests will have a once-in-a-lifetime Taos experience in an uncrowded, intimate alpine sanctuary. On-mountain restaurants are planning to open and will operate with safety protocols including physically-distanced seating that maximizes open-air dining whenever possible, new ordering procedures including contactless payment processing, and more. The resort will also be cashless. Indoor spaces throughout the resort will be significantly limited this year, so skiers will need to put on boots and gear in designated outdoor areas, in their cars, or in their lodging. Although there will be no locker room access, a no-touch basket check will be available to guests for a fee. All tickets must be purchased in advance.


Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village, Wyoming, will operate its tram capacity at 25 people per cabin plus one operator to allow for physical distancing and to keep guests and staff safe. Face coverings will be required in all lines and while loading and unloading the cabins. Gondola lines will be spaced out to allow for adequate physical distancing and will run at the highest possible speed to move guests efficiently around the mountain. There will be no sightseeing tickets for any of the lifts, gondolas, or tram. Dining establishments are prioritizing guest health and safety with required face coverings, limited capacity inside restaurants, adjusted operations, new online ordering, and additional outdoor dining options at the base and on-mountain. Guests will find new outdoor dining in warming tents at the base area (three tents throughout the Village base in total) and mid-mountain outside of Casper Restaurant where guests can eat grab-and-go or personal meals with adequate physical distancing. New this winter, a ski-in/ski-out vending system will be offered near the base of the Sublette lift at Bear Flats and will also be a place for skiers and riders to warm up.

Big Sky Resort in Big Sky, Montana, has always provided plenty of room to spread out, offering more than an acre per skier/snowboarder on average. Its immense 5,850 acres of skiable terrain, plus lift infrastructure that moves guests up and across the mountain quickly, makes the experience on the mountain a relatively low-risk outdoor activity. The Yellowstone Conference Center, an 8,000-square-foot indoor space, will be open to the public to provide additional seating and room for dining and warming up this winter. Grab-and-go and takeout options will be available at each restaurant, with online ordering capabilities for select locations to provide guests an alternative method of ordering and to minimize time indoors. Wearing a facial covering is the most important factor in the Resort’s ability to stay open safely all season long. Facial coverings are required indoors, in lift queues, while riding lifts, and when physical distancing cannot be maintained.   

Peace of Mind at Montage Deer Valley

With breathtaking, panoramic views from atop Empire Pass in Park City, Montage Deer Valley is not only a sight to behold, it also offers unrivaled ski-in and ski-out privileges just steps away from its entrance. Adjacent to three high-speed chairlifts, Montage Deer Valley offers intimate access to the exceptional skiing at Deer Valley. For the 2020-21 ski season, Montage Deer Valley has gone beyond its normal offerings and has implemented health and safety program enhancements with its Peace of Mind Commitment to all its guests. Integrating all the latest technologies, services, and safety standards for a clean and safe environment along with a high-level standard of protocols for sanitizing and deep cleaning, the Montage Deer Valley stands by a very strict level of hygiene and safety for all its guests. 

New this ski season, Montage Deer Valley presents the Empire Lounge. A VIP experience, the Empire Lounge is a special package during holidays and holiday weekends throughout the 2020-21 winter season, which guests can purchase. Offering access to a private lounge, which will be socially-distanced, spacious, and comfortable as well as convenient, the Empire Lounge Access includes a European-style breakfast buffet as well as lunch and après ski refreshments following all COVID-19 protocols. In addition, the Montage Deer Valley will have expanded private dining opportunities from family dinners to holiday parties off the Vista Lounge in the resort’s library.

“Our Montage guests are very brand-loyal,” says Montage Deer Valley Public Relations Manager Emily Goldmanis. “We’re excited to welcome them back for this year’s ski season and to offer the Empire Lounge as well as our private dining options. The safety of guests, residents, and associates are our number-one priority.”

Personalized service is what Montage Deer Valley prides itself on. Ski rentals are available at Compass Sports located on-site. Compass Sports can assist with every aspect of ski needs from customizing skis to snow conditions and guest abilities, to waxing skis and warming boots before the slopes. Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets ahead of time as there will be no same-day purchases for this year’s ski season. 

Montage Deer Valley offers superior luxury accommodations in elegant mountain comfort. Less than five minutes from Park City’s celebrated Main Street, and an easy 40-minute drive from Salt Lake City International Airport, experience over 2,000 acres of gorgeous Deer Valley skiing in the Wasatch Mountain terrain and its powder-light snow without sacrificing comfort or safety.

Montage Deer Valley | 435.604.1300 | Park City, Utah |

Nordic skiing and other snow sports

Mammoth Mountain

If downhill skiing or riding has you a bit nervous this season, for obvious reasons, a more affordable and safer option for a winter sport is to Nordic ski. As many resorts, mountain towns, and parks groom countless kilometers of cross-country trails, Nordic skiing, whether it is classic or skate, is one of the best exercises in some of the most beautiful areas of any mountain range. Depending on the resort or area, trails can be free. However, passes are often required and, depending on the location, drop-in fee boxes exist at trailheads. Expect a large turn-out on these trails this winter season as skinny skiing is a cost-effective, family-friendly, social distancing activity where even dogs, in places, are allowed, with passes—you might even see some skijoring. In addition and gaining in popularity, fat tire snow biking is also offered at many Nordic centers—just one more option for snow play along with snowshoeing. Also, backcountry skiing is more popular than ever. If you find gear, to buy or rent, make sure you know how to be safe in the backcountry as avalanches do occur. Beacons, shovels, and probes should be considered as part of your gear as well as knowing how to use them, and, if you are a novice, a guide is highly recommended. Be aware that there could be a scarcity of equipment to buy in all winter sports this winter season. So, no matter your desire to get out in the white stuff, make sure you reserve equipment, if needed, and call ahead about any special protocols and lessons, which is definitely helpful, especially if learning to skate ski. 

Ski Passes

Besides safety protocols, reservations, and lodge accessibility, if you have purchased or plan to purchase any type of pass from individual resorts, or an Epic Pass (for use at 34 Vail Resorts in North America), Ikon Pass (15 resorts, including Mammoth), or Mountain Collective Pass (23 mountains around the world), read up on how reservations are operating. Social distancing is mandatory and in order to manage numbers, most ski resorts have instituted reservations for every day of the season with pass holders receiving priority access. | |

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