By Karen D. Lorentz
Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, this will be a unique ski season, one like no other and yet like all others.
A paradox to be sure, but at the same time an uplifting one.
The one thing that has stayed the same during this new reality of staying away from so many things we love to do is the joy of descending snowy mountain trails.
That’s when we are free to remove our face coverings and enjoy the freedom of controlling our lives, however briefly, as we make turns to the tune of our own abilities.
We are free to forget the stresses, strain, and seriousness of a year we haven’t seen the likes of in our lifetimes as we immerse ourselves in the rhythm of gliding and edging and looking ahead.
Only it’s not the future we’re focused on but rather the terrain and where we want to turn – nothing more serious than that as we enjoy snow and scenery and delight in a run well made.
Ironically, it is in descent that we re-create – that all the cares of the world disappear and we are free to enjoy ourselves in a challenging sport.
But to get to this point, we have had to give up certain other freedoms, including much of the social and après-ski aspects of the ski world.
Changes to foster safety
Vermont ski areas have taken a variety of approaches to facilitate our runs this season. Most changes are in response to the state of Vermont’s mandates to promote safety and health during the pandemic – requirements like face coverings and social distancing, reducing restaurant capacities, and others that often change week to week.
Vail Resorts, corporate parent of Mount Snow, Okemo, and Stowe resorts in Vermont, launched a reservation system for all of its resorts to safely manage how many guests are on mountain on any given day and facilitate contact tracing if need be.
Probably the biggest change people will notice is the use of face masks, which are required to be worn in lift lines, on chairlift or shuttle rides, during lessons, and in buildings. They are not required while skiing or snowboarding downhill. The face coverings should have at least two layers so in cases of loosely woven neck warmers or buffs, two may have to be used or doubled over or could be combined with a paper (surgical type) face mask.
The type of ski masks with holes for nose breathing are not acceptable. Guest compliance has been good and if someone doesn’t wear a mask, staff will remind them (if forgotten, they are sold in Okemo’s retail shops), noted Okemo Communications Manager Bonnie MacPherson.
Guests will also notice that Okemo has gone cashless. MacPhersopn explained that “for the safety of guests and staff only credit cards and debit cards may be used for all transactions. This includes at hotels, restaurants, ski and ride school, and all other points of sale. For the best experience, skiers and riders should book and pay online in advance,” she added.
Also for safety as well as long -range environmental goals, there are no paper trail maps at Okemo this year. Guests can use digital interactive maps and find other useful info on the Epic Mix app. (Large trail map billboards remain at the tops of key mountain areas.)
Other changes include: ski and snowboard lessons have a maximum of six for group lessons and there are no day care services for children of guests. The mountain’s restaurants have a maximum capacity of 75 and it’s suggested (not required) that times for meals be booked in advance. Food will be mostly “grab and go” and there are some takeout windows and picnic tables outside. Restrooms are open with outdoor facilities also available, but shuttle service is limited to between the base areas and outer parking lots. While the mountain coaster, tubing, and ice skating aren’t being offered this season, times can be booked for the pool at Jackson Gore. The hotel restaurant and lobby are limited to inn guests or owners only.
While these changes may take some getting used to this year, one change skiers can look forward to next year is that the Green Ridge Triple will be replaced by the Quantum Four bubble lift. The latter will be replaced by a new six-seat chairlift.
First day back
As a mostly midweek skier, my visits to Okemo used to begin with a short drive. This year making a reservation preceded that. Being not the most tech savvy senior, I visited the site at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, read directions, and made my reservation in a 1, 2, 3 process that confirmed I had done it in a quick minute.
I got my gear ready, hit the sack early, and couldn’t get to sleep — the old excitement was back!
After a slow beautiful drive, I dropped my skis off and booted up at the Jackson Gore lot as usual. Pleasantly surprised to see the shuttle bus, I rode up to the entrance area, grabbed skis and was on the lift by 9 a.m.
Being that it was my first time out, I took an easy warm-up run on glorious corduroy and then headed to the main mountain. Holy Toledo what a difference! People, lots of them in line for the Sunburst Six so I skied to the base lift. Another line but they opened the second quad so it was a short wait. I rode up with another single and it was just like the old days of meeting a stranger and striking up a conversation.
We decided to make a double and got in line for the Sunburst, but we chatted and forgot to time our wait. At the top I heard two men saying the view was so good they could stay there all day. Distant mountain tops like Mount Ascutney loomed over fog clouds below – an amazing sight.
On a schedule, I skied back to Jackson Gore via Easy Rider, which as one youngster trying to get up was telling his dad wasn’t a green but a black. It had moguls and wasn’t as wide as usual and even had ungroomed snow in places so it did ski more challenging than usual. I hope they groom it wide and flat because normally it’s a glorious trail to swing down but, like that kid, I was challenged by the bumps.
I took a long run down Mountain Road and then crossed over to Solitude and back down to Jackson Gore. I had five minutes left and the snow was too good to miss so I took another non-stop run and heard myself thinking “quit while you’re ahead.” But my feet skied me back onto the lift for another peaceful solo ride up and that final run that produced a sense of elation and pride that the old legs still worked!
For a first day out, I had skied two and a half hours, saw more people than I have since last March (due to Covid), and had fun. I got my joy and confidence back. Most importantly, the experience gave me a sense of hope that some things won’t change.