In an attempt to enhance skier safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Vail Resorts, owners of Park City Mountain, will require all guests to utilize an online reservation system in order to ski at their resorts during the upcoming 2020/2021 winter season. The reservation requirement applies to all skiers and snowboarders, including Epic Pass holders, in an attempt to make sure resorts do not exceed daily capacity to operate resorts safely during the pandemic. The move is sure to ruffle some feathers among locals and pass holders who are used to showing up to ski the country’s largest resort whenever and however they please, but executives at Vail feel it’s the only way to keep the mountain open while coronavirus still impacts everyday life.

“We are fortunate that our core experience of skiing and riding takes place outdoors, across huge mountains, offering fresh air and wide-open spaces for our guests. However, to help protect our guests, our employees and our communities amid this pandemic, some changes will be required this season,” Vail CEO Rob Katz said in a letter sent to guests this week.

The changes Katz is referring to include some things we’ve come to expect in recent months like face covering requirements and limited seating in indoor dining areas, but the most impactful is certainly the pass holder reservation system. At first glance the system appears to be a byzantine set of stipulations with references to “priority reservation days,” “core season” and “week-of reservation days.” However, I think it essentially boils down to Epic Pass holders being able to hold up to seven specific priority reservation days at any time (use those for busy weekends if you plan on skiing) while also being able to sign up for as many week-of days (e.g., it’s Monday and you’d like to ski on Wednesday) as are available throughout the year. The biggest sticking point is a reservation will be required every day you show up to ski or ride.

If all these details are making your eyes water because you just like buying a season pass and forgetting about everything else, I’m with you. But the good news is it looks like pass holders have some priority over other guests with things pass-holder-only skiing until December 8 and first crack at priority reservation dates beginning in early November. You may not  feel like you have a typical season pass, but if the new rules help keep the lifts spinning while large portions of the world remain shut down, I’m for ’em. Vail doesn’t anticipate capacity being an issue most days throughout the season, but Park City will likely have to limit skiers during typically busy periods like the days following Christmas and over MLK weekend.

There’s more affordable choice in ski passes than ever before with the Epic, Ikon and Mountain Collective Passes all vying for your dollars this winter, and depending on how you feel about the reservation system the changes might impact your decision. But I’d caution we’re likely to see similar restrictions throughout the industry as it grapples with coronavirus. If you buy an Epic Pass and are unable to secure the priority reservation dates you want, you can return your unused pass for a full refund up until December 7, 2020. Check out a complete explanation of the season pass reservation system here.

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