Nope, nothing to see here, Folks. Move along. I’m sorry to report that any significant storm events that any website hinted would come our way have evaporated like Aladdin’s genie. It’s been dry as a bone overall since the Utah ski season began in December. Remember that year it didn’t snow until February? Yeah, it’s like that. Now add in a global pandemic.
This all begs the question, “Should you take a Utah ski vacation this year?” Well, let’s see: no “Greatest Snow on Earth”, the Beehive State Covid-19 spiking big time, you risk your life if you travel by plane, stay in a hotel, dine in at a restaurant, stand in a lift line, and then there’s the whitty bitty task of making a reservation to ski. Will you risk your health traveling to a ski resort if you can’t even ski?
The planning of a ski vacation during the continuation of Covid-19 protocols is enough to make you jump into your bed and hide under your sheets. But do you scrap everything and wait until the world calms down and it’s “safe”?
“Safe” is relative.
If you are a skier like me, waiting out the summer is tough, but can we imagine not skiing for a whole year? Hell, no. Luckily, as a local ski area employee, I get a free pass so if the mountain closes I’m not out $1200. Destination skiers must plan everything- and fork out thousands. I can just hop in my car avoiding the local shuttle filled with tourists who wear masks like chin diapers, I ride the lifts alone, take a few runs and head home. Whether to leave your home resort to venture to Utah comes down to your own personal choice for your family, health and bank account. Here are some pros and cons that can help you with your decision.
REASONS TO NOT SKI UTAH IN 2021
Not everything is open. Park City skiers are riding on a 42-inch base of manmade snow during a month that typically hits 100+ inches, which means your favorite blue and black runs, tree shots and steep chutes are closed. There is indoor dining on the hill, and off, but it’s difficult to get reservations because seating is limited. If you wait until the hour before you want to eat you may be SOL. Many guests are brown bagging it, grabbing takeout from Five Guys or cooking for themselves.
Crowds over the holidays and reduced loading capacity on the lifts are causing ridiculous wait times. The longest so far being 48 minutes. I would hate to find out what it will be like on a powder day.
There is no consistency. Every Utah resort has its own Covid-safety protocols that could change at any minute. The toughest restrictions at the moment come from Park City Resort which requires you to make advance ski reservations whether you have a day pass or Epic pass. Even if you have a week booked at your favorite hotel, you might not be able to book the ski days you want. If you’re not the kind of person that likes to plan everything down to the minute of every day, it could be a stressful time to travel.
Lift riding procedures vary at each resort as well. Snowbird’s tram ops will make you wear a mask with ear loops, Park City and Deer Valley are cool with neck gaiters so long as they are over your nose. Yes, there are hosts and lifties empowered to make you pull up your mask or leave if you don’t comply and the Resort has requested that other guests and employees help in the policing of this.
You have to be flexible. The ski areas are still learning to navigate this pandemic. Despite best efforts you might wake up to find your favorite resort closed like they did at Hunter Mountain, New York. Some areas, like Snowbird which typically stays open through Memorial Day, are considering a shortened season. You will need to be able to go with the flow and have a few “alternative plans” at the ready until things normalize.
Not everyone is behaving responsibly. Every day there’s a post on the Park City Facebook page asking about the best places to party. Groups are gathering indoors for dinner and drinks, taking shuttles without their masks and hanging out in clusters both on the hill and in the lodges. If that sketches you out, you may want to wait to travel to Utah. On the other hand, there are social distancing and mask mandates everywhere. There’s no party scene this winter, the energy on the hill is subdued and we have no idea when and if things will feel “normal” again. This pandemic is unprecedented and it will definitely take a long period of time before things begin to feel pre 2020.
Lift ticket prices have gone through the roof! If you didn’t purchase a season pass you are looking at $179-$229 depending on the day. A 6.5-hour private lesson will set you back $1000-1100.
REASONS TO SKI UTAH IN 2021
You don’t want to miss out on a ski season. The champagne powder is bound to arrive sooner or later and you want to be here when it does. Some people have skied one week every year since they began or they count the days every season that they ski. Missing a whole season is just not an option.
Big room discounts. Hotels and property management companies are trying to lure people back at a time when occupancy has dropped to devastating levels. The end of January will be a ghost town, with the cancellation of the in-person component of the Sundance Film Festival this year.
Come visit if you’ve been here before and want something different. Your trip will not be a normal or usual experience. It’ll be unlike anything you’ve ever done (and hopefully unlike anything you will ever do again). You won’t get that same awesome ski vacation vibe you might if this was your first time visiting but if you’ve been here before, you might appreciate the low crowds on the slopes and the tales you’ll tell of park city a pandemic.
So should you go skiing in Utah in 2021? There’s no blanket statement that we can give like, “Yes go skiing,” or “No, 2021 just isn’t the year for it.” We don’t know how vaccines will change the experience as the season wanes or whether the lifts and lodging and restaurants will decide the worst is over and can allow more people. We can’t even say, “If I were you….” Because we’re not you. We don’t know how you feel about the world right now.
The one thing we can recommend is if you are planning to travel, make sure that there are cancellation flexibilities in everything you choose. Flights, hotels, lift tickets, adventure activity reservations. With spikes or county mandates things could close in a heartbeat so you need to be ready to change your plans as well. Make sure you can cancel without fees or you’re okay losing your deposits.
Last year, I was skiing one day and told the season was over the next. If you had 2020 lift tickets it was a fight to get them refunded; same with AirBnB reservations. Make sure you understand the individual cancellation policies for each aspect of your trip. If your hotel shuts down are you okay with changing your reservations? Restaurants in Utah are open for indoor dining but if they have to close like in Aspen are you okay with takeout? Bars closing at 10:00 p.m.? Making reservations to eat lunch on the mountain? Cooking in your hotel room?
For me, I travel because it’s another story to tell. I was in my apartment when the Pasadena earthquake struck and all the reports said to stay inside, stay off the roads. I grabbed my camera and drove to the epicenter to get my video for a story for school. The adrenaline was pumping. This year, the story is “skiing during a pandemic” but if you aren’t into that kind of narrative this might not be the year for you to ski Utah. Only you can make that call.