You’ll still feel that familiar rush of giddy anticipation as you white-knuckle it toward the mountain.
The bustle of the ski area parking lot will still bring a grin to your face. And any problems you brought with you? They’ll still evaporate by the time you load your first chairlift.
You’ll still slice through the fresh snow — cautiously, at first, then faster as you shake off the cobwebs. The cold will still numb your fingertips, and the wind will still sting your face.
Yes, your goggles will still fog up.
And no, the lift lines won’t magically disappear this year.
Skiing, in many ways, will feel the same as always this winter. But the upcoming season will also bring bountiful changes for Oregon skiers.
Like nearly all businesses, ski areas have been forced to overhaul their operations in the COVID-19 era, with changes extending to nearly all aspects of the resort experience. And as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to soar, skiers should be primed for a new experience at the mountain this season.
The good news for winter sports enthusiasts: Ski resorts are permitted to open during Oregon’s current 2-week coronavirus freeze — and an encouraging base of snow has built up in the mountains.
Things will be different on the mountain this year, though.
Enthusiasts will be hard-pressed to make spur-of-the-moment trips to the state’s largest ski areas, for example. Jam-packed restaurants and bars will be a thing of the past — eschewed in favor of socially distant drinking and dining.
Some skiers will surely balk at sharing chairlift rides with others. Even carpooling will be called into question, and some shared transit options will be unavailable.
And your mask? It’ll be an essential part of your ski kit this season — in addition to your standard neck gaiter or face protection.
Here’s what to expect over the coming months at Oregon’s largest ski areas. And remember, we’ll all need to be flexible as things change. Check resorts’ websites to keep tabs on the latest developments.
RESERVING YOUR SPOT
Your gear is packed. Your alarms are set. And your weather app is calling for a foot of fresh snow by morning. You — and every other skier in the state — are stoked.
But this season, you won’t be able to simply cruise on up to Oregon’s most prominent resorts and proceed with your powder day. Instead, most skiers will have to make reservations ahead of time.
Take Timberline Ski Area, for example.
The resort — known for its namesake lodge and spectacular position high on Mount Hood — says all skiers and snowboarders will need to reserve their spots online. It won’t likely be hard to score a spot on a weekday, but weekends and holidays will likely be a different story.
The resort will run at a reduced capacity this season, and weekend reservations are bound to be competitive. John Burton, Timberline spokesman, said the resort will cap its number of patrons before its parking lots fill up — at least in the early season and on peak weekends and holidays.
Mt. Hood Meadows, which sits next door to Timberline, also plans to run at reduced capacity. There, skiers with day passes will be required to make reservations, but passholders will be able to ski and ride without logging on beforehand.
Meadows’ day passes will also cost different prices depending on when skiers plan to hit the slopes, as a tiered pricing system will make tickets starting at noon, 2 p.m. or 5 p.m. less expensive than those allowing access from the minute the resort opens.
The move encourages patrons to arrive later in the day, spreading out arrivals. And on busy mornings, the resort says it will be able to shut off ticket sales beginning at 9 a.m. — the resort’s traditional opening hour.
Mt. Hood Skibowl, the closest resort to Portland, plans to require reservations from all skiers — even those with season passes.
Central Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor, meanwhile, has rolled out a different reservation system. Drivers, not skiers, will have to reserve their spots at the Bend-area resort. So anyone riding a shuttle or being dropped off will be able to ski and ride unabated.
Some shared transit options will remain available for Mount Hood skiers seeking a lift this season.
The Mt. Hood Express buses between Sandy and Timberline continue to operate, and skiers should expect shuttles between Hood River and Meadows to run. Both will operate at reduced capacity, and the Meadows shuttles will require advance reservations.
Some options won’t be available, however. Meadows won’t offer shuttles from Portland — at least at the beginning of the season — and Timberline isn’t operating its shuttles.
For the masses heading up to the mountain in their personal vehicles, this season probably isn’t the best time to set up an elaborate carpool system, either. Under the state’s coronavirus freeze, Oregonians can gather indoors or outdoors with six or fewer people from no more than two households.
Once you actually hit the slopes, you should expect a familiar experience.
Freshly groomed corduroy will still beckon you from the chairlift. Your favorite powder stash will still call your name. And you won’t have to do anything different while you’re cruising downhill, enjoying Mother Nature’s bounty.
But the lift line will bring you back to reality, where COVID-19 considerations are in full effect.
Skis and snowboards will, by nature, keep guests apart. But enthusiasts should expect revamped lift queues and mask mandates at the bottom of their runs.
Timberline, for example, requires guests to wear cloth masks when they’re unable to keep physical distance outdoors — including in the lift line. And Burton, resort spokesman, said patrons will notice more staffers in the lift queues, reminding people to wear masks, social distance and keep things moving.
Meadows, Skibowl and Bachelor also call on guests to wear masks or face coverings in various outdoor settings, including in lift lines.
Skiers moving indoors — whether to warm up, purchase gear, use the restroom or grab a bite to eat — will encounter setups similar to those at restaurants and retail stores throughout the state.
During Oregon’s coronavirus freeze, restaurants at ski areas statewide are limited to take-out offerings. Resorts’ retail stores are also subject to a 75% maximum capacity limit during that time.
Patrons will be required to wear masks indoors, mirroring regulations at other businesses statewide.
Skiers will also see some infrastructure changes when they return to the mountain.
Meadows, for example, is primed to open a new lodge in the resort’s existing base area. The new lodge, dubbed “Sahale,” is Meadows’ first major commercial improvement since the resort’s South Lodge expansion in 1999, according to the resort.
Sahale will house Meadows’ learning and rental centers, as well as a new restaurant and bar. The expansion will also help alleviate congestion at the resort, which is bustling on peak winter and spring weekends.
Timberline, meanwhile, is set to spin its new Pucci chairlift this season. The high-speed, four-person chairlift will ferry skiers up the mountain faster than the previous Pucci lift — a standard, slower lift that accommodated three riders.
The chairlift will be ready when the season gets underway, Burton said.
So when, exactly, will that be?
Timberline plans to open for skiing Nov. 25, conditions permitting, and Meadows’ first day is scheduled for Nov. 30.
Bachelor’s opening day is Dec. 7, and Skibowl hasn’t announced an opening date.
In the meantime, skiers are champing at the bit as snow piles up in the mountains.
Thirty-two inches are on the ground at Timberline Lodge. Bachelor boasts a three-foot base. And better conditions, almost assuredly, are yet to come.
So tune your skis. Set aside a festive mask. And let it snow.
— Jim Ryan
email@example.com; 503-221-8005; @Jimryan015