Social distancing regulations have driven more travelers outdoors, seeking adventure and maybe a little solace in the grandeur of nature. National parks, from Zion National Park in Utah to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, set record visitation numbers last year. But colder temperatures don’t mean an end to the great outdoors; instead, destinations are shifting gears to offer pandemic-safe winter fun.
The National Ski Areas Association launched its Ski Well, Be Well campaign, which is designed to promote best practices for both ski resorts and travelers alike. The campaign notes the suitability of snow sports during current times as a low-risk outdoor activity that provides plenty of space for participants and naturally requires face coverings, gloves and other protective gear, and it also offers a gentle reminder to stay safe on the slopes.
Destinations are shifting gears to offer pandemic-safe winter fun.
Resorts in various ski regions across the United States have similarly adopted a range of new precautions intended to keep travelers safe, while anticipating large numbers of visitors and simultaneously maintaining the high level of luxury and range of amenities discerning travelers have come to expect. They’re not just catering to the skiers and snowboarders, either: Resorts understand that not every winter visitor wants to hit the slopes, and they’re providing these travelers safe ways to have fun too. Here’s a look at how some winter-weather resorts and destinations are handling this season’s unique challenges while offering plenty of fun, adventure and luxury.
TETON VILLAGE, WYOMING
Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa
New, nonstop flights from destinations such as Seattle, San Diego and San Jose, California, from Alaska Airlines, as well as from Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina, on American Airlines, make access to Jackson Hole and the surrounding ski locales easier than ever before.
“I think this year we have 15 nonstop direct flights, which is the most winter flights we’ve ever had, in terms of direct, nonstop flights from major cities, since the airport opened,” notes Stephen Lane, regional director of marketing for Noble House Hotels & Resorts, which includes Hotel Terra Jackson Hole and Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa.
This added accessibility, paired with limited capacity on the mountain at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, makes it even more important for travelers to the area to pick their accommodations, as well as their itineraries, with care.
“Lift tickets will be hard to come by on some weekends. We still want to encourage people to come and visit, but if you’re here for four or five or 10 nights, odds are maybe one of those days you won’t be able to get access to lift tickets. You can still have a great ski vacation, but you may want to count on one of the other non-ski outdoor adventures we offer here,” Lane points out.
Some of those non-ski outdoor adventures the whole family can enjoy? Dog-sled tours, snowmobiling and snow coach and wildlife tours in both next-door Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, which is just one hour away. The talented concierges at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa can make all of the above (and more) possible. Plus, the AAA Four Diamond lodge is located in the heart of Teton Village, within walking distance of the lifts and tram, making it easy to enjoy a range of amenities and activities without the need to shuttle into town on a regular basis.
LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK
High Peaks Resort
Visitor counts in Lake Placid were up even before ski season began, with the area’s main thoroughfare hustling and bustling with activity in normally quiet months, according to Anne Reilly, property marketing manager at High Peaks Resort, located right in the heart of the village.
High Peaks Resort offers three accommodation options, including the main resort, with its newly renovated guest rooms, large on-site restaurant and stellar views of Whiteface Mountain and Mirror Lake; the Waterfront Collection right on the lake; and the Lake House, with its midcentury-inspired decor that’s thoroughly Instagram-worthy. For those who prefer to stay indoors while the others in their party ski and snowboard, the spa and salon are open and taking a range of admirable measures to keep guests comfortable. Beyond that, shopping, cafes and bars are literally just steps away on Lake Placid’s Main Street.
Of course, for those seeking snow, High Peaks Resort is well prepared. “High Peaks Resort includes admission to Cascade Ski Center with all of its reservations, making every winter getaway a ski getaway. For those who prefer alpine skiing, High Peaks Resort is located just 30 minutes from Whiteface Mountain. For those who like to get outside and enjoy winter in smaller doses, High Peaks Resort will be introducing complimentary snowshoe rentals this season,” says Reilly.
Anne Reilly is likewise the property marketing manager for Topnotch Resort, located not too far away in Stowe, Vermont. While not situated in quite a walkable location as its Lake Placid sister resort, Topnotch offers a range of ways for guests to enjoy themselves both on- and off-site and both indoors and out.
“On campus, you’ll find the Topnotch Spa, Stowe’s premier relaxation destination; Topnotch Tennis, with four indoor and six outdoor courts; [and] two dining establishments, The Roost and Flannel, all without distracting from the breathtaking beauty of the 120-acre property at the foothills of Mount Mansfield. Off campus, you’ll find yourself just a short drive from the ‘ski capital of the northeast,’ Stowe Mountain Resort, and the business district of Stowe,” says Reilly.
Topnotch also features MTN Ops Outfitters on site, as well as relationships with Stowe’s top outdoor guides to help with outdoor options. “Whether you enjoy snowshoeing, alpine, nordic or backcountry skiing, Topnotch Resort has easy access to a host of winter sports,” says Reilly.
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
If a jaunt out to the Northeast is out of the question for your travel plans this year, those on the West Coast would do well to take advantage of the only ski-in/ski-out destination in Lake Tahoe, as well as the first AAA Five Diamond resort in the Lake Tahoe area: The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe.
“With mid-mountain access to one of the best ski resorts in California, The Ritz-Carlton creates an unparalleled experience for winter-sports enthusiasts visiting Lake Tahoe,” says general manager Colin Perry. “The world-class ski valet at the resort makes it easy and convenient for guests to store equipment at the resort and head straight to the mountain with ease. Located mid-mountain at Northstar California Resort, guests have access to over 18 ski lifts, with a range of difficulty levels, making it the perfect starting point for first-timers and a snow-filled playground for expert skiers. New winter activations will also be offered starting in December 2020 in accordance with Placer County COVID guidelines.”
For those who’d rather stay indoors, luxury is the name of the game. Guest rooms and suites all feature gas fireplaces, soaking tubs and floor-to-ceiling windows. If you feel the need to venture from your guest room (though we wouldn’t blame you if you decided to cozy up exclusively in this luxurious space), you can find the 17,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, with its extensive treatment menu — including special wintertime treatments like a ponderosa pine winter body scrub and an alpine-glow facial and eye treatment. Dining and drinking options include the resort’s signature restaurant, Manzanita; the Backyard Bar & BBQ for getting your ’que fix year-round; and Café Blue, for locally sourced coffee and fresh juices. The resort is also a 15-minute drive from historic downtown Truckee, with its shopping and other dining options.
Vail Ski Resort
Likely the most recognizable name when it comes to the luxury ski experience, Vail Ski Resort offers visitors easy access to 5,300 acres of skiable terrain across Vail Mountain.
But visitors to Vail Ski Resort are often just as enamored with Vail Village as they are Vail Mountain. While the 2020–2021 winter looks a bit different in the village, most of the dining options are open, with limited capacity, to cater to your après ski needs. A member of the Vail Resorts team likewise passed along that, “partners with the Town of Vail have shared that they are planning for outdoor tents … and a public-consumption-area ordinance extending through the winter to allow for outdoor après and social distancing while enjoying après. There will also be outdoor activities, such as live music, for guests to enjoy while strolling the heated streets of the village.”
Breckenridge Ski Resort
Similarly, Breckenridge Ski Resort, also owned by Vail Resorts, is a much-loved ski destination in Colorado that’s thoroughly intertwined with the town of Breckenridge, commonly and affectionately referred to as simply “Breck.” While the resort is home to North America’s highest chairlift and one of the longest ski seasons of any major resort in the United States, the town itself offers plenteous ski-in, ski-out options, ski-to-town trails and, this year, the Breckenridge Snow Sculptures Invitational. The new event, from January 26 to February 7, will feature the work of internationally acclaimed ice sculptors and reflect Breck’s 30-year snow-carving tradition.
As any avid snow-sports enthusiast knows, beyond Vail Ski Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort, Vail Resorts operates a handful of ski areas across North America, including highly popular locations in Park City, Utah, and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada.
Whichever Vail Resorts destinations you may visit this winter, you can rely on a range of changes made with guest safety in mind, including requirements for physical distancing and face coverings and limited lift-ticket availability (even more of a reason to go ahead and reserve any snow-sports experiences sooner rather than later).
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY
Big Snow American Dream
Just a short drive from Manhattan, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Big Snow American Dream is the first and only real-snow indoor snow-sports facility in North America, a concept that will appeal to both snow-sports enthusiasts and newcomers alike.
For those who don’t have the time or interest to travel to a ski resort, Big Snow removes all the barriers. “One of the things that really attracted us to the potential of Big Snow was the idea of being able to remove all the traditional barriers of entry to the sport,” says Hugh Reynolds, vice president of sales and marketing. “When you look at those, high on the list is accessibility — the access to the mountains. Not a lot of people, even those who live in our market, have the means or the interest to drive out for a full day to a mountain and try skiing or snowboarding. We make that opportunity much more accessible.
“Our typical experience at Big Snow is about three hours of total time, from the time you check in and get geared up and get on the snow until you’re out of your gear. That’s easier for someone who’s never tried the sport; you don’t have to commit to driving out to the mountain and being there for the full day,” Reynolds says.
Already, Big Snow has moved on to expanding the footprint of its indoor terrain park to cater to freestyle skiing and snowboard enthusiasts, and plans are in the works to offer private lessons for both beginners and advanced skiers.
For those who give the facility a try and still can’t see the appeal of all that powder, Big Snow is located within the larger American Dream complex, which includes 60 retail stores, on-site dining and even a water park and theme park.
A Safer Way to Snow
As the ski industry and ski resorts around the country commit to safer ways to enjoy the season this year, travelers can feel comfortable and confident experiencing the mountain environments they love with the people they love. For more information on safe practices both on and off the slopes during your ski vacation this winter, visit nsaa.org.
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