When Steve Conney first heard that ski resorts were going to use reservation systems to help maintain social distancing, he thought it would mean fewer people on the hill. No such luck.
“I’m surprised by how busy the resorts are,” says the founder of PowderChasers, a snow forecasting website, and an avid sampler of what he predicts.
Combined with a continuing rush to get outdoors, the various crowd control systems are actually making it harder to go skiing. You can’t just show up at the ticket window in the morning, says Conney. Resorts often sell out their daily quota of tickets days or weeks before. At some resorts, even owning season passes or booking ahead offer no guarantees.
But don’t let the challenges turn you off a spring ski trip—even a spontaneous one, says Conney. He’s travelled to seven resorts throughout the U.S. west on multiple occasions this winter, including getting stuck at Snowbird, Utah during a 100-inch storm in February. He’s often booking a week or less ahead of time.
“If you really want a reservation you can usually can get one, but you might have to be persistent and patient,” he explains.
Here’s how to game the system:
Know the rules
Almost every resort has some kind of limiter to control skier numbers. Most big resorts, including all Vail properties, use an online reservation system. Some limit day-ticket sales. And a few, like Snowbird, control numbers with reserved parking. Check resort websites to see what you’re dealing with.
Read the fine print
Many resorts require reservations for day tickets, but don’t for season’s passes and some multi-mountain cards. But even this varies from resort to resort. For instance, Jackson Hole doesn’t require reservations for Mountain Collective pass holders on their two free days, but it does for Ikon Pass holders.
Start with the weekend
No surprise, weekends book out first. Often weeks in advance, says Conney, and Snowbird has sold all its weekend parking passes for the entire season. His advice: Reserve the weekend portion of a trip first and then work from there.
Don’t give up
More than ever, travel plans are in flux. That means reserved tickets are, too. “People are constantly booking and cancelling, especially at large resorts,” says Conney. When he can’t find the dates he wants, Conney continually refreshes the search. “Availability usually pops up,” he says. “A lot of people cancel the day before or even that morning.” When they do, act fast or someone else will snag them.
If you aren’t going to use a reservation, make sure to cancel it. Not only does it give other skiers a chance to go, but resorts are paying attention. Resorts can, and do, block skiers that don’t use reservations from making future ones.
Book beds, too
Don’t assume the travel industry’s woes carry over to ski town hotels. “If anything, hotel room rates have gone up,” says Conney. “There’s high demand.” His trick for finding affordable accommodation: Look a town or two away.
Get used to it
Some ski industry insiders saw reservation systems coming before the pandemic to deal with growing crowds at big resorts. It’s possible they are the new normal. “I don’t see reservations going away any time soon,” Conney says.