Snow bunnies, breathe a sigh of relief: The governor's new coronavirus guidelines won't stop ski season, which along with hunting, fishing, and camping appears on King County's list of allowed recreational activities. But that doesn't mean it's business as usual at Washington's resorts; since the hills shut down in their waning weeks of spring skiing, they've adjusted procedures to blend distancing and downhill. With a La Niña weather pattern already sending snow our way, Crystal Mountain became the first local resort to announce an opening today: Lifts start spinning tomorrow, November 18.
The ski mountains closest to Seattle—Crystal, Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie, Mission Ridge, Mount Baker—each have their own tweaks for This Crazy Time, but there's one constant: masks. Expect mask requirements in lift lines, ski shops, bathrooms, and outdoor dining areas; basically everywhere but mid-groomer run. Most locations also plan to limit each lift chair to household parties who arrived together, meaning no impromptu stranger chats on the uphill ride this year.
Crystal's extensive Covid-19 guide outlines other major changes, like distanced seating on their parking lot shuttles and advance reservation requirements for lessons and rental gear on most days. To spread skiers out, lifts start at 8:30am on weekends, a half hour earlier than usual, and new outdoor food options keep everyone in the brisk—or stormy—air. Stevens Pass (currently eying a December 4 opening) will allow for walk-up rentals, but is only doing cashless transactions. Summit at Snoqualmie will book some rentals in advance and may limit kid's club activities. Mission Ridge has eliminated its SkiLink bus to Wenatchee and childcare services; Mount Baker is adding grab-and-go food options.
But the biggest Covid question on the ski slope this year will be who is allowed on the hill. To limit crowds, each mountain has its own brand-new system, most prioritizing season pass holders. Stevens Pass will follow a reservation system used by all Vail Resorts mountains; season pass holders can already book days in advance, and single-ticket sales will start December 8. Crystal Mountain had previously announced they would not require advance booking for pass holders, but announced a reservation system this morning that went live immediately. Neither mountain will allow for walk-up ticket sales, though Snoqualmie is expecting to sell them on non-peak days (aka weekdays). Smaller mountains like Mount Baker and Mission Ridge plan to limit skiers on the mountain but will sell to walk-ups most days; the more out-of-the-way ski destinations will likely be the best bet for non-season pass folk.
With Crystal opening first among local resorts, their implementation of distancing procedures will give Seattle skiers their first look at the 2020–21 ski season. Rules may change more often than the weather. In a nutshell, it's gonna be a weird year. We wouldn't expect anything less from 2020.