Thursday, October 22, 2020

What to Expect at Ski Resorts this Winter across the Canadian Rockies

The upcoming ski season may look a bit different this year, but resorts are excited to welcome us back! Ski Industry Leaders across Canada have established best practices for the coming season with a commitment to supporting health through standard protocols and guidelines for each resort.

Downhill skiing or snowboarding is a low-risk recreation opportunity where you'll spend the majority of your day outside wearing protective gear including face masks and gloves, naturally distanced from other visitors as you spread out around the ski hill. 

The upcoming ski season may look a bit different but resorts are excited to welcome us back!


Follow this link to read the current story.

Standard Resort Procedures for 2020-2021 

While there may be some differences between resorts, there will be standard procedures that you should notice everywhere you visit this winter.

  • Face coverings will be required at all resorts, inside buildings and day lodges, and while riding on chairlifts or in gondolas. Once in a day lodge you will be allowed to remove your mask once you are sitting down at a table with your snack or lunch.

  • All resorts will have policies in place to accommodate physical distancing around the property, in lift lines, and in buildings.

  • All resorts will have cleaning and disinfection policies in place to keep high touch areas sanitized regularly.

  • Most resorts are encouraging guests to purchase their lift tickets online in advance. Most season passes will be upgraded for direct to lift access and even rental gear can be reserved ahead of time at many resorts this year. 

  • Communication will be key at resorts this winter and there will be signage at all resorts highlighting all new policies and rules.

  • Employees will be trained in COVID-19 safety and cleaning protocols. They will also be screened daily for symptoms.

  • Guests will be expected to stay home if they are showing any COVID symptoms and asked to wait until they are feeling well before visiting the resort.

Follow this link to Panorama Mountain Resort's website to read more about the Ski Well, Be Well Ski Area Best Operating Practices for 2020-2021 that most resorts should be following.

Ski Well, Be Well with your family this winter

The Good, Clean, Fun Promise

Castle Mountain Resort has come up with their own promise to their guests based on the same practices outlined above.

"We make a pledge to you to provide GOOD, honest, and frequent communication on COVID-19 Related changes to our operations. 

To maintain a high standard of CLEANliness, in all of our indoor and outdoor spaces.

To create a FUN, family friendly environment all the while respecting local, provincial, and national health guidelines and recommendations." - Castle Mountain Resort

Read more about the Good, Clean, Fun Promise here.

Skiing offers your family Good, Clean, Fun!

Winter Operations at Calgary's Closest Mountain Ski Area

Nakiska Ski Area has released their safety measures and protocols that they plan to follow for the upcoming ski season.

You can read about them here: 2020-21 Winter Operations for Nakiska Ski Area

Most of their policies are similar to the others you'll read about in this guide but pay special attention to the following:

"Please no storing bags in the lodges. The lodges are being used for eating and warming up only; get ready at your vehicle before skiing. We have increased the number of tables available on the deck.
To ensure all have a chance to sit down, please limit your indoor time and clean up when you are finished. Non-skiers should be prepared to stay with their vehicle or outside on the deck."

Nakiska has also said they will require guests to answer Covid screening questions upon entering the resort (something I haven't seen mentioned for other resorts yet.)

Read about the operations at other RCR resorts here:

We plan to spend lots of time at Nakiska this winter, Calgary's closest mountain ski area!

Mask Requirements at Ski Resorts this Winter

Masks or face coverings will be required everywhere on ski hills this winter from the second you park your vehicle until you leave the resort. (Which means you'll be wearing a mask while carrying your equipment to the ski racks, while standing in lift lines, and while riding the lifts, including magic carpets.)

The two exceptions are that you will be able to remove your face covering while skiing and you'll be able to take it off while sitting at a table (much like we do now when we go to a restaurant.)

Children under the age of 2 will also not be required to wear a face covering. 

Practical suggestions for mask use at ski resorts this season:

  • Bring a dry mask to wear inside the day lodge so you can remove your wet ski mask or balaclava. 

  • As always, you may want to bring extra outdoor face coverings so that you have something dry to wear on the slopes in the afternoon ( I know my balaclava is usually soaked by noon.)

Wearing a face covering is pretty normal when skiing or playing outside

What to Expect in Lift lines, on Chairlifts, and on Gondolas

Regular cleaning and disinfecting will take place on all lifts and gondolas. Natural ventilation occurs on chairlifts and windows will be kept open on gondolas to increase air flow.

Physical distancing will also be easy to maintain in a natural way unless you're standing on top of somebody's skis. 

Most resorts will "try" to load groups as a cohort or family rather than making strangers share a lift. That being said, some resorts have said it just won't be possible at peak times.

Sunshine Village has the following on their website:

"We will load our lifts and our gondola at full capacity during busy periods. Loading our lifts at capacity will allow us to prevent large lift lines." - Sunshine Village Ski Resort


This is what you can expect to see at most resorts this season unless it's a busy day

For families planning to visit Panorama Mountain Resort this winter, know that the Monster X Snow Cat will still operate, allowing easy access to the Taynton Bowl for steep and deep expert skiing. They plan to load the cabin to capacity with face coverings mandatory for the 10 minute ride. Tickets must be purchased in advance and no Monster X season pass is being offered this year.

BIG NEWS - Early Chairlift Loading! 

And definitely one of the coolest things I've read so far in my research from the Lake Louise Ski Resort: 

"Our lifts will open earlier on certain weekends and holidays to get guests up the mountain and reduce the number of people that are in the base area at one time." - Lake Louise Ski Resort

Some resorts are considering opening lifts earlier to reduce crowds at the base

MORE BG NEWS - Cohort and Family Bubble Loading!

Nakiska Ski Area has the following posted on their website: 

"There will be two maze areas for the following guests: 

Cohort Groups or Family Bubbles – those willing to ride the lift together. These groups will be loaded onto a lift up to the capacity of the carrier as their own group. No one outside these circles will join these groups.

Individuals who are willing to ride with other people: These people will be loaded onto lifts on the following basis/capacity

2 per Quad chair (Gold Chair, Silver Chair, Olympic Chair)

1 per Double chair (Bronze Chair)" - Nakiska Ski Area


Special loading mazes at Nakiska should mean we won't see this for the upcoming winter!

Practical suggestions and what to expect on chairlifts and gondolas this season:

  • Be prepared to handle your own gear when loading and unloading from gondolas. At Sunshine Village, staff won't be assisting guests with their skis/boards this year because it puts their employees at an increased risk if they're touching everybody's gear. (Exceptions will be made for those who require special assistance.)

  • Ride with a buddy whenever possible so that you don't have to try and fit onto a lift as a single (when many people will prefer to ride with their own group.)

  • Be polite at all times with resort staff! I know you might not want to share a chairlift in busy times or you might not appreciate the single skier squeezing their way into your gondola. Regardless of how you feel about the policies, employees are trying their best in challenging times and will appreciate a friendly wave. (Remember they're wearing masks too and can't see your smile, or smile back at you.)

Physical distancing will be expected in all lift lines this season 

Your Vehicle is your Ski Locker this Winter 

Most resorts are encouraging guests to leave their bags, shoes, and all personal items in their vehicles rather than in the day lodge this winter.

BIG NEWS - Leave your bags IN your vehicle this winter!

Lake Louise has the following on their website:

"This year, one big difference is that we ask guests not to bring their bags into the lodges unless they have purchased a seasonal locker or will be using our limited number of day lockers.

We’ll have benches in the parking lots to facilitate you getting ready at your vehicle. We encourage you to do so and leave your bag in the car. Alternatively, you may boot up in the morning in the lodge, but please return your bags to your vehicle once you are ready.

This year, the operating protocols required for everyone’s health and safety do not allow bags to be left randomly inside lodges. Plan to use your vehicle as your locker." - Lake Louise Ski Resort

If you usually bring a backpack with snacks and lunch items in it, you'll have to plan to ski with your pack rather than leaving it in the day lodge.

Marmot Basin in Jasper also has the same policy:

"Personal belongings are to be stored in lockers, cubbies, or in your vehicles. Leaving bags and belongings under tables or on chairs is prohibited." - Marmot Basin

Note that the "no bag policy" will be resort specific so contact your local resort before visiting to make sure you're prepared.

Your vehicle is your ski locker this winter. Plan to leave personal gear in your vehicle this season

What to Expect in Day Lodges and Restaurants at Resorts this Season

There will be reduced seating in all day lodges and restaurants this winter, and tables will be spread out to allow for physical distancing. You can also expect to see a maximum number of people allowed per table. (6 is the limit most resorts have posted.)

Expect to see more grab and go food options at resorts, new temporary tent facilities with additional bathrooms, increased picnic areas, and fewer shared amenities (microwaves for example.)

BIG NEWS - Priority Access in the day lodge for those purchasing food!

The Lake Louise Ski Resort specifically mentions on their website that priority seating in lodges will be given to those that have purchased their lunch or snack. 

"Guests that have brought their lunch will be directed to designated areas. As capacity allows, those areas will continue to be in our lodges or outdoor tents. If necessary, you may be asked to go old school and eat the lunch you’ve brought outside. 

We will have chairs, tables, heaters and fire pits outside for a real Canadian experience. Microwaves will continue to be provided if possible but may be temporarily paused this season. If you are bringing your lunch, consider packing items that don’t require a microwave." - Lake Louise Ski Resort 

Marmot Basin in Jasper also suggests that guests return to their vehicles to eat (if possible.)

"Our four parking lots are uniquely tiered alongside one of our novice runs called “Home Run,” which has always made skiing in and out directly to lifts possible at Marmot Basin. We suggest bringing your own lunch and eating at your vehicles due to restricted seating capacities inside our chalets.

Table space in cafeterias and restaurants will be reserved for only those purchasing food and beverages. Please be courteous by minimizing your time in these spaces to make space for other guests." - Marmot Basin 

Expect to spend more time outside this winter 

BIG NEWS - No camping out in day lodges this winter!

Castle Mountain Resort has taken a firm stance against camping out or lingering in their day lodge this winter when not having a quick snack or lunch break.

"Given current restrictions on indoor gatherings, we expect to limit the number of people in our base area buildings. Time limits could be imposed, ensuring that day lodge visits are kept to essential visits only.

“Camping out” in the day lodge just simply will not be an option this winter. In order to minimize indoor visits, and to help us manage capacities, please consider treating your vehicle as your own personal lodge & ski locker." - Castle Mountain Resort 

Spend more time skiing this winter and less time hanging out in the day lodge!

Other specific day lodge changes by resort:

Sunshine Village - They have transformed the top floor of the Old Village Gondola Station into a picnic area for guests. It will be heated and will be furnished with tables and chairs. Sunshine has also secured two new sprung tents, one beside the Goat's Eye Lodge and one in the main Village area beside the old gondola station.

Lake Louise - They will be adding temporary heated structures at the base area, at Temple Lodge and at Whitehorn Lodge to provide more space to eat and warm up, and adding additional outdoor tables, patio heaters and fire pits. Heated washroom trailers will also be available.

Expect to spend more time at picnic tables outside the day lodge this winter 

Recommendations and suggestions for day lodge use this ski season:

  • Since lodge space is limited, all guests are encouraged to pack their own food rather than relying on cafeterias and restaurants. 

  • Don't expect microwaves or anything fancy inside the new tents or picnic areas. Bring a backpack with your lunch and plan to spread out around the hill for your snack and lunch breaks. By packing your own lunch with you, you can pop into warming huts or tents whenever you ski by one and need to have a break.

  • Time your breaks for non-peak times. Don't try to get into the main day lodge at noon for example. Time your meals for before or after the lunch rush.

For more tips, check out my previous story: Ten Tips to Escape the Crowds at Ski Resorts this Winter 

Carry a backpack with you loaded with snacks and lunch items for rest stops

Rental Procedures for the 2020-21 Season

Resorts will continue to rent out skis, boards, boots, poles, and helmets. All rental equipment will be disinfected between each guest. And as with all buildings at the resorts, masks will be required while renting equipment.

BIG NEWS - Reserve your rental gear ahead of time!

Panorama Mountain Resort specifically encourages guests to pre-purchase their equipment package before coming to the resort. 

Lake Louise also asks guests to make an online reservation for rental equipment, and they will be introducing pick up and drop off stations outdoors.

Check with other resorts individually to check their specific policies.

You can still rent gear at ski resorts this winter! Check resort procedures before you visit

What to Expect with Ski and Snowboard School this Season

Lessons will continue as normal but teachers will be required to wear a face covering while teaching and to practice physical distancing with their students. Instructors will not be allowed to join students for lunch this year and there will be no supervised lunches.

Below is the protocol that will be followed at Panorama Mountain Resort:

"Programs will run daily with pre-registration required, this will be available online soon. You can expect staggered start times and smaller groups. All day and special programs will not include lunch or après ski components this year. Face coverings will be required for all participants at all times during a lesson, including when skiing and riding." - Panorama Mountain Resort


Ski school will proceed as usual with a few small changes this season

No Daycare at Ski Resorts this Winter 

Sadly there will be no daycare operating at ski resorts this winter. It's just not possible to keep the young children outside all day where it's safer and easier to physically distance. It's also not possible to create a cohort situation for the daycare facilities.

Suggestion if you regularly rely on daycare at resorts:

  • Plan a ski getaway and stay slopeside if possible. Take turns as parents skiing with older children and staying in the condo with the baby or toddler.

  • Recruit a friend or grandparent to watch your youngest child/children back in the city for the day. If you have friends that are part of your close bubble, consider taking turns with childcare (one weekend one of you stays with the younger kids in the city and then switch places the next weekend.)

  • Take turns skiing/staying in the city with your spouse or partner (which I know sucks, but it allows one of you to ski with the older kids while the other stays home with the baby.)

  • Choose a ski resort close to home where there are other activities nearby or perhaps where there is a hotel nearby that would let you spend time there with a younger child. For Nakiska, we've spent many hours at the nearby Pomeroy Resort where there's always plenty of space for physical distancing in their large lobby area. You'll also find walking trails around Kananaskis Village where you could pull a young child around in a sled while the rest of the family skis.

  • Look for ski school programs that blend childcare and ski lessons for preschoolers that can't ski for a full day (some resorts will offer this service.)

BIG NEWS - Shared parent passes will be available at select resorts! 

Lake Louise is offering a parent pass this winter. One pass can be purchased, and the parents can share it – one can ski or snowboard while one looks after the kid(s), then trade off after a few runs. Click here for info.

Note it is a season pass so you'd have to commit to making Louise your home hill for the winter.

With no daycare at resorts this winter parents will have to get creative with the little ones

Slopeside Resorts will be Open

Plan for your own private day lodge experience!

Plan a ski getaway, book a slopeside condo, and experience the safest ski experience possible with your own private day lodge. Retreat to your own space for snack or lunch breaks, cook your own meals, and hang out in your condo when not skiing (great for families with babies or young children.)

As normal, masks will be required inside common areas, hallways, the lobby, etc. 

Practical suggestions if booking a ski vacation: 

  • Expect reduced capacity in hot tubs so you might want to leave the slopes a bit earlier rather than trying to squeeze in a soak right before dinner. Some pools and hot tubs might also have time restrictions. (At Panorama Mountain Resort for example, there is a one hour time limit for the hot pools.) 

  • Most resorts will have relaxed cancelation policies in place but check with your resort directly for their specific policies.

Book your ski vacation today and experience your own private day lodge this winter! 

What to Expect with Lift Tickets, Season Passes, and Discount Cards

Reservations will not be required to access the slopes at resorts throughout the Canadian Rockies. Guests are encouraged though to purchase their lift tickets online in advance or to have a season pass purchased for their local resort. By doing so, lines at guest services will be reduced.

Most resorts are mailing out season passes this year so if you haven't heard from your resort yet, it might be time to contact them to check on the progress (some resorts hope to be open by early November!)

Unique policies by resort:

Sunshine Village - Sunshine Village will be offering a mobile lift ticket that can be purchased through their free Ski Banff app. Once your cell phone is scanned, you can head straight up the gondola.

Panorama Mountain Resort - Lift tickets will not be sold at the resort unless part of an external program (i.e Lake Louise Plus Card or the Grade 4 / 5 Snow Pass.) 

"Panorama's RFID enabled ticket system, means that day tickets, season passes and SNOW+ Cards can be reloaded online, allowing you to go straight to the lift, all you need is a Panorama Advantage Card. If you already have one, log into our online store or give us a call and we can add products directly to the ticket/pass you already have.
Don't have an Advantage Card? No stress, you'll still purchase you ticket online and then collect your unique RFID card from the Guest Services ticket window before heading to the lift, after that you're all ready to reload online for next time."     

Castle Mountain Resort - Day ticket sales and online ticket pick-ups will be facilitated through the outdoor ticketing windows only. Resort staff will also be getting out into local nearby communities this fall for season pass / direct-to-lift card printing days to minimize line-ups for passes and WOW cards. You can find more information on their website.

Lake Louise Ski Resort - Guests are asked to visit the outdoor ticket windows and self-serve kiosks to pick up a pre-purchased day ticket, or purchase a ticket the day of skiing. Lake Louise Plus Card Direct-to-Lift upgrades will be processed in the North Face Bistro, which has been temporarily converted into a season pass and Lake Louise Plus Card processing space.

Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, Kicking Horse) - Guests will have access to outdoor ticket windows and self-serve express kiosks to pick up pre-purchased lift tickets only. Guests will not be able to purchase lift tickets at the resort this winter.

It's recommended that you purchase your ticket online well in advance of your visit because the resort could reach capacity at peak times. (Season pass holders however will always be able to show up to ski without worrying.)

Direct to lift cards and passes will be your best friend this winter on the slopes!

What to expect with Discount Cards:

Discount cards (Example Sunshine Super Cards or Louise Plus Cards) can be purchased online and the resorts recommend that you upgrade to a direct to lift pass this season.

With any discount cards, make sure you check for black out days. Panorama Mountain Resort sells a Snow + Card at a fabulous price, but you can't use it over the Christmas - New Year's period or over the Alberta Family Day long weekend this winter. (And while disappointing for sure, these are peak times at the resort and crowds need to be managed while we navigate a safe ski season in the midst of a pandemic.)

Plan to ski mid week or at non-peak times this winter (and skip holidays!)

Redeeming Ski Cards and Lift Tickets from Last Year 

Have a discount card with free days left on it, or even an unused lift ticket that you purchased last year? Contact your resort directly to find out how you can use these ski days this coming season.

Specific policies by resort: 

Sunshine Village: If you have an unused lift ticket for Sunshine Village the ticket can be exchanged, and will be valid until December 24th, 2020. Get your new ticket at their Calgary Snow Central Office, at any Sunshine Ticket Window, or at Guest Services. (Exchanges will be processed after October 31st.) 

If you have a 2019-20 lift ticket for Sunshine Village that you purchased through their mobile app or e-store, and you did not pick it up last year, email them at for an exchange.

Resorts of the Canadian Rockies: Any unused BC add on passes are eligible to be exchanged for a 2020/2021 BC add on, if presented in conjunction with a 2020/2021 Nakiska season pass. 

Purchased, unused, single-day lift tickets or vouchers from the 2019-20 season will be valid for the upcoming ski season. You can find more information here

Lake Louise Ski Resort: All unused 2019/20 Lake Louise Plus Cards are eligible to be exchanged for a new card for next season. Lake Louise Plus Cards from last season that have been used, have been extended until December 17, 2020 at Lake Louise. (So if you still had a free day on your Louise Card, you have until the 17th to claim it at Lake Louise!)

Check your resort directly if you have ski days or tickets from last year to use up!

Services, Events, and Programs you will not Find at Ski Resorts this Season

Don't expect to find these services available at the majority of ski resorts this winter:

  • Any group events with more than 50 people

  • Après ski programming like DJs, live music, and dance events

  • Programmed kids' activities at resorts with on hill accommodations (so don't evening activities for the children after they finish skiing.)

  • Buffet-style banquet dinners for holidays

  • Fireworks on New Year’s Eve and possibly on Family Day at Panorama Mountain Resort 

  • Music Festivals 

  • Some dining options (resort dependent)

  • Night Skiing at some resorts (It will not operate this year at Panorama)

  • Weekend youth ski races at some resorts. Lake Louise has specifically said they will be moving these races to mid-week days this year. 

This winter will get us back to the pure love of skiing and riding!

Refund Policies for the 2020-21 Ski Season

Every resort will have its own refund policy this winter so check with your resort specifically. 

Full Refunds: 

The most common policy I've seen for season passes is that there will be full "no questions asked" refunds issued for all unused passes. This means you'll get a full refund if you are not able to use your pass this coming winter. (If you use it even one time though, you will not be eligible for a refund.)

Partial Refunds:

Sunshine Village has a special refund policy that allows for partial refunds based on the date that you request your refund  (even if you got a few ski days in.) Visit their website for more information

Panorama Mountain Resort also has a partial refund policy in the event guests are unable to use their pass during the core winter season because of government restrictions or closures The refund is determined based on the number of days you were able to ski with your season pass prior to requesting the refund. Visit their website for more information

Most resorts will have generous refund policies this winter. Check directly with your resort.

Forced Closure Refunds:

Sunshine Village also has a forced closure refund:

"Our forced closure refund will be applicable to all 2020/21 Sunshine Season Passholders and will be applicable if we are forced to close due to COVID-19 before March 21st. 
In the case of another mandated closure, all 2020/21 Season Passholders will be eligible for a refund on their season pass that will be calculated based on subtracting the passholders usage at our regular priced window rate of $127 from the passholders purchase price." - Sunshine Village 

Castle Mountain Resort also has their own 100 Day Season Passholder Guarantee

"Buy your Castle season pass with confidence with our 100 Day Season Passholder Guarantee. If this season is shortened to less than 100 days, due to a government mandated resort closure related to COVID-19, you’ll earn a prorated credit towards your 2021-22 season pass." - Castle Mountain Resort

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