The holiday season is upon us and, despite the headwinds of Covid-19, thousands of skiers and snowboarders have been aiming toward the mountains for welcome relief.
However, high demand for spots on the hill has begun to butt up against the immovable force of state, local, and resort capacity limits -- and lack of early snowfall that limits terrain.
So newly instituted reservation systems -- both for tickets and parking -- are flexing their muscles. Virtually all resorts in the West are on a quasi-reservation system via the online-only purchase of daily tickets. However, resort season pass holders and multi-mountain pass holders with Epic and Ikon passes, typically just show up whenever they want.
Large early-season crowds on limited terrain at Colorado's popular Winter Park forced the resort to go to a reservation system for Winter Park pass holders and Ikon Pass holders during the holidays.
Multi-resort Epic Pass holders -- required to call ahead to make a reservation at all of its 32 United States mountains -- have flooded the system.
As a result, reports indicate that Vail-owned Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek, and Vail were full for the weekend before Christmas and that Breck and Vail are already full up Dec. 28-Jan. 2. Openings may come up, as terrain opens up and cancellations occur. The Epic Pass site now has a "check availability" site to other Epic resorts with openings.
In addition, Breckenridge recently canceled some previous public reservations due to limited terrain and notified employees that they can't ski or ride until more snow comes to open more trails.
At this time, Ikon Pass holders must call ahead to 13 resorts to make a pre-visit reservation. That number may with capacity limits and/or state closures.
In California, it's day trips only until after the holidays. The startling re-eruption of Covid-19 cases has prompted the state government to reissue a stay-at-home order, shutting down overnight stays and banning leisure travel to many counties -- including those with major ski and snowboard resorts.
The one oddity is at Heavenly, which straddles the California-Nevada border but is open for skiing and riding. Nevada's hotels and restaurants are open, while California's are not.
Cooped-up all off-season, skiers and riders see winter sports as one of the few activities where people feel safe enough to bear the risk of coronavirus infection. The industry itself has leaned on the fact that skiing and riding, by their nature, are "socially distant" activities.