Ski season is officially underway in Utah, but not without some hiccups for anxious locals. Heavy snowfall earlier in November had many dreaming of hopping directly into midwinter conditions with widespread terrain openings, but a dreaded high-pressure system has settled in with warm, dry temperatures. Between the dearth of snow and the complications of the coronavirus pandemic, some resorts have pushed back their opening days, while others like Park City Mountain are open with the equally-beloved-and-loathed white ribbons of death. The limited terrain has also impacted the much-discussed skier reservation system implemented by Vail Resorts (owner of Park City Mountain) for this season, making it difficult for some locals to access the mountain for early-season turns.
The skier reservation system was put in place to manage crowds and facilitate safe distancing on the hill. Love it or hate it, the system at least signaled a plan was in place to get, and hopefully keep, resorts open for the winter. As a little bonus for the locals, skier reservations for the early season until December 8, 2020 would only be available to pass holders, which many hoped would be a low-stress opportunity to work on the ski legs without fighting the crowds. But limited terrain has necessitated limiting the availability of skier reservations, leaving many pass holders out in the cold.
Several Park City residents I spoke with were among those unable to make reservations for opening weekend or the weekend following Thanksgiving, despite trying to sign up near the reservation system’s opening time. One of them, Mike Legendre, was able to secure a spot to make a few turns on the opening Friday after repeatedly refreshing the reservations page, but he was still blocked out of the coveted weekend spots. Currently, all but one day left in November are totally booked up, and the December 12-13 weekend is already full as well.
“I understand limiting reservations because you can’t spread people out right now, and I’m not for people hoarding days, or any resources for that matter. Going skiing is a privilege, after all, and we all have to make some concessions this year. But it’s still frustrating not being able to ski after purchasing a pass,” Legendre says. “I’ve only been able to reserve for opening day, and that was after sitting there most of the day refreshing the browser. There were overtones made prior to the season that reservations would be widely available, and that hasn’t been the case thus far.
A spokesperson for Park City Mountain, Jessica Miller, indicated in an email with the Park Record earlier this week reservations will likely become easier to secure once more terrain is open. Miller also urged skiers only to reserve days they are likely to use, warning if skiers repeatedly miss or cancel reservations they may lose reservation privileges for a period of time. This prospect has rankled some local skiers and snowboarders who feel the system favors vacationers with pre-planned dates over locals who rely on flexibility while balancing family and work schedules to ski. Spencer Steinbach, a hospital executive at the University of Utah and an avid skier is among those who feel the system works against their interests. “I try to plan afternoons to ski when I can, but what if I get stuck in COVID operations meetings and I have to cancel? I should be able to cancel without fear of being penalized and worrying I won’t be able to make a future reservation to ski with my kids. It’s ridiculous,” he says.
Reservations have been difficult to come by, but resorts don’t want people hoarding days when they’re available. Even if it makes sense, it’s fueling a sense of powder panic without the snow. COVID-19 won’t go unnoticed this ski season, but hopefully processes and policies evolve over the winter to let skiers to enjoy the mountain as they always have while enabling resorts to stay safely open and financially solvent. I was able to make it up for a few turns on opening day, and while layering a mask with a neck gaiter to ride chairs alone and ski a single run felt strange at times, I can attest to some fleeting moments of joy while arcing turns downhill. The moral, as always, is to go skiing when you can. It’s good for the soul, and we all need that right now.