Lifts will start turning Nov. 6 at Vail Resorts, the biggest name in Colorado skiing, which announced plans for the 2020-21 season on Thursday aimed at safely welcoming skiers during the pandemic that shut down its runs in March.
Reservation requirements will limit capacity to promote social distancing on the hill and other measures will ensure separation at lifts and in the lodge.
“There is no doubt this season will be different," said company CEO Rob Katz in a news release, "but we are committed to what matters most: working to protect our guests, employees and communities and doing everything we can to provide great skiing and riding all season long."
Vail, which operates 34 resorts in North America including its flagship destination in Colorado along with Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Crested Butte, is set to start running lifts Nov. 6 at Keystone.
Only "related parties" will be allowed to board as part of changes, which include required face coverings.
Also, in an attempt to manage social distancing, the resorts are launching a reservation system.
When it briefly reopened at the end of May, Arapahoe Basin offered a glimpse of what afternoons on the slopes would look like with restrictions. Daily guests were capped at 600 at the Summit County ski area.
Asked what limits would be across Vail resorts, company spokesman Will Shoemaker told The Gazette: "There are a variety of factors that we will use to determine capacity ... We're still working internally and in discussion with local communities on some of those factors."
In the news release, Katz said: “For the vast majority of days during the season, we believe everyone who wants to get on our mountains will be able to.
"However, we are not planning for the majority of days, we are planning for every day of the season. 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.”
Epic Pass holders have been promised benefits.
They'll "get the mountains to themselves with exclusive early season access through Dec. 7," reads Vail's rundown of the rules. Starting Dec. 8, the company says it will begin selling single-day tickets. Before then, season pass holders are able to book up to seven "priority reservation days" for the "core season" running through April 4.
Season customers can keep up to seven reservations at one time and can swap days out during any given week.
The priority access also goes for Epic Day pass holders, Vail reminded in its announcement. The latest offering in the company's suite allows skiers to buy discounted tickets for days of their choosing.
Vail also announced the year's lowest price points would be available until Sept. 17, extending the deadline from Labor Day. That's "to give guests more time to consider the changes," the news release read.
The rest of Colorado's ski industry is similarly looking forward to winter, but specific plans are yet uncertain. Attempts to reach representatives at multiple ski areas were unsuccessful Thursday. Asked for updates, a spokesman for Colorado Ski Country, the trade group representing most of the state's resorts, said "nothing definitive."
Several resorts have indicated they were taking queues from their summer operations. That includes Aspen and Winter Park, which this month announced it would be kicking off the ski season Nov. 18. Winter Park's announcement came with notice of "a pre-booking method of purchasing (tickets) to limit lines and in-person contact."
Reservations are not expected at Monarch Mountain, the local favorite of southern Coloradans.
The ski area's owner, Bob Nicolls, told The Gazette that local health officials have advised rearranging indoor services. But when it comes to the outdoors, "I think we can space people out with our normal crowds," Nicolls said.
He considered those numbers to be a fraction of major resorts — 3,000 visitors making for the busiest days at Monarch, he said. That's five times the number that was permitted at A-Basin per day in May and early June.
But since that brief reopening, much has been learned about the virus, including, Nicolls noted, the relatively lower risk of transmission outside. And skiers seem to be eager, he said, judging by what he said was record-breaking season pass sales to date at Monarch.
"People want to come and ski," Nicolls said. "They want to get out and enjoy. And that's heartening to see, that they're trusting us to keep them safe. It's inspiring."