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Skiing and snowboarding have always been favorite winter pastimes in the United States, but this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they're more popular than ever. As people seek new, safe ways to get out of the house, ski resorts are facing higher demand as they are still limiting the number of people on the slopes and are booking up faster than usual, with some even selling out for the first time ever.
"Excitement is high this season as people look for an opportunity to safely enjoy the outdoors," Lindsay Hogan, Director of Communications for Vail Resorts, says. "We are fortunate that our core experience of skiing and riding takes place outside, across huge mountains, offering fresh air and wide-open spaces for our guests. However, to help keep our guests, employees and communities safe amid this pandemic, we did implement some important changes this season."
To keep guests and employees safe, ski resorts across the country have put many new health and sanitation rules in place, from mandating masks to limiting capacity via required reservations. But many Americans are still hesitant about hitting the slopes. Is it safe to go skiing or snowboarding amid the pandemic?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reminding people that staying home is always the safest option. However, if you do plan to ski or snowboard this winter, here's what you need to know before you pack up and head to the ski resort, according to experts.
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Is it safe to go to ski resorts during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Because skiing and snowboarding are outdoor sports (and socially-distanced by nature), they're classified as "safer activities" by the CDC. "You are less likely to be exposed to COVID-19 during outdoor activities," the CDC explains on its site, adding, "Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. In many areas, people can visit parks, trails, and open spaces as a way to relieve stress, get some fresh air, and stay active."
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has also published guidelines for winter enthusiasts to follow on the slopes along with what resorts should do to minimize the spread of COVID-19, including limiting the number of people on the chairlift and implementing stricter sanitation protocols. "It is up to every individual, both ski area employee and guest, to do their part to help protect the health and safety of our skiing and snowboarding community," the NSAA writes. "Following requirements to mitigate the risk of infection is part of the social contract between ski area operator and guest."
How you can stay safe while skiing or snowboarding
If you plan to visit a ski resort this winter, there are a few ways to protect both yourself and those around you. Continue to practice social distancing and avoid crowds by going at "off" times, like during the week. Limit the amount of time you spend indoors, as well, by only heading into the lodge when necessary, like for a quick bathroom break or to grab a drink. Many resorts are also encouraging guests to use their vehicles as "home base" for gearing up, eating lunch, etc. rather than going inside.
The CDC advises people to still wear your face mask underneath your scarf or ski mask and to bring extra in case the one you're wearing gets wet from the snow (which makes it more difficult to breathe through and less effective). After testing some of the most popular face masks, our experts at Reviewed found the Athleta mask to be the best in terms of breathability and comfort, and it comes in a pack of five.
You should make sure to have hand sanitizer on hand with at least 60 percent alcohol per the CDC's guidelines. It's also recommended that you bring your own equipment—like ski boots, helmets, etc.—rather than renting when possible to avoid sharing gear with others. Finally, note that local rules and regulations vary from state to state (and from resort to resort), so it's best to call ahead or check the website of the mountain or resort that you plan on visiting before you go.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.