The pandemic may have spoiled last season’s skiing, but thanks to some clever mountainside innovations, there’s plenty to look forward to this winter.

By Mary Holland
December 25, 2020
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Outdoor dining with views of the Alps at the Kulm Hotel, in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
| Credit: COURTESY OF KULM HOTEL ST. MORITZ

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

Some quintessential mountain experiences — thumping après-ski parties, hot-tubbing with new friends — may be off the agenda this year, but that doesn’t mean the upcoming season will be a bust. “We’ve seen an increase in demand for private homes and long-term stays,” says Dan Sherman, an executive at Ski.com, which sells lift tickets and ski-hotel packages at resorts worldwide. Travelers are still keen to hit the slopes this year, Sherman notes, “but they’re looking for a specific COVID-19 policy” on things like face coverings and cleaning protocols. “Fortunately, skiing is made for social distancing,” he adds.

Big North American operators have already implemented changes. Vail Resorts has a reservation system across its 34 properties this winter, and while the company says its mountains are likely big enough to accommodate all comers, capacity caps may limit access on some peak days. Holders of the Vail Resorts Epic Pass will get first dibs on reservation slots.

The Ikon Pass, a similar multi-resort offering from Alterra Mountain Co., grants access to 44 mountains this winter. At press time, some of those, such as Big Sky Resort and Taos Ski Valley, required reservations, while others were in wait-and-see mode. Independent slopes such as Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resortand Vermont’s Mad River Glen will require face coverings — not a hardship when skiing, really — and may limit capacity on gondolas and lifts.

Across the Pacific, the Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort, in Nagano, Japan, is going one step further: the COCOA app, which was developed by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, will notify users if they glide past others who have tested positive for COVID-19. And Switzerland Tourism has launched a Clean and Safe campaign through which restaurants and hotels, including those in the Alps, will receive a stamp of approval if they’ve made certain health and safety improvements, which include upgraded air filtration and contactless payment systems.

Backcountry and heli-ski experiences will also be in high demand this year, industry watchers forecast. Caldera House, in Jackson Hole, and Dunton Hot Springs, in Colorado, both have mountain guides who can whisk guests on private backcountry trips, and Alaska’s Sheldon Chalet, set inside Denali National Park, allows guests to shred on the Ruth Glacier.

Other resorts will give the feel of being far from the masses: in St. Moritz, the Grand Hotel Kronenhof and its sister property, the Kulm Hotel, offer convenient access to Corvatsch Mountain, one of the few in Switzerland with nighttime skiing, which is typically uncrowded. In Japan, the Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is slated to open this season, with just 43 rooms and seven suites. And in Megève, France, Les Fermes de Marie added 10 new Alpine chalets in May; each is staffed by a private butler and chef.

Slopeside dining will also be different this year, as many resorts promote delivery and takeout services. Aspen Snowmass, Ontario’s Blue Mountain Resort, and Alterra resorts, will also add airy tents or yurts where skiers can fuel up in more generous spaces. Zermatt’s Mont Cervin Palace is encouraging guests to keep the après-ski party small by offering buyouts of the cozy Carnotzet restaurant, where a DJ spins for groups of no more than 30 people by the light of a log fire.

A version of this story first appeared in the December 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Back on Top.