Crystal Ball Gazing: What to expect at ski area restaurants for 2020-21

The good old days: Pre-Pandemic in January 2020, people gather at the Bavarian Restaurant at Taos Ski Valley. / Peter Schroeder

This won’t be the year that you’ll wake up and say, “Let’s go skiing today.” Or, once on the slopes, “I’m hungry—let’s go have lunch.”

That’s one of the only certainties about the upcoming snowsports season during the ongoing (and long-going) COVID-19 pandemic. Under the new normal, ski industry professionals foresee a “skiing by advance reservation” system similar to that used by Arapahoe Basin and Mt. Bachelor during their limited reopenings in May 2020. Sign-ups might be required for lunching at restaurants and even cafeterias.

Food for thought about on-mountain and base-area dining came from a media briefing that featured Patricia A. Campbell, (President, Vail Resorts, Mountain Division); Kelly Pawlak (President/CEO, National Ski Areas Association / NSAA); Nick Sargent (President, Snowsports Industries America / SIA); and Rick Kahl (Editor, Ski Area Management / SAM). NASJA (North American Snowsports Journalists Association) hosted the Zoom meeting on June 25.

Nothing is definite yet about the winter season. “The typical ski area is looking at five different scenarios,” states Kahl. But here’s how food services at the resorts might operate:

Advance reservations required. In the same way that resorts will likely limit the number of skiers/boarders on the slopes, even prosaic burger-and-hot-dog cafeterias might insist on pre-booked reservations for seating and ordering meals.

Outdoors venues reduce chances of virus transmission. / Peter Schroeder

Thinking outside the box may literally mean “outside.” Resorts want to encourage people to eat outdoors by expanding seating on decks. They also are creating new al fresco lunch locales with windbreaks on the slopes. “[Resorts are] ordering plexiglass by the boatload,” says Kahl. “If you could invest in a plexiglass company, I encourage you to do it.”

“Contactless” transactions. Ski areas are trying to figure out how to get people to pay in advance to avoid bottlenecks at the resort, whether it’s renting gear or buying a bowl of chili. Food-service venues will be doing more with credit cards, QR codes, and grab-and-go (as opposed to cooked-to-order) meals.

Avoid peak times. Think of lunch like planning your forays to Costco or Trader Joe’s. Steer clear of those hours when hangry crowds rummage and forage.

Check how Southern Hemisphere ski resorts are operating. Their winter is now—six months ahead of ours in North America—and provides a preview of how things may play out, states Campbell. At Perisher in Australia (which is owned by Vail), food and beverage operations and indoor seating are limited. Visitors are encouraged to pack their own snacks and lunch. On the really down side: Major ski areas like Portillo and Valle Nevado (Chile) are closed indefinitely; Las Leñas (Argentina) will not open at all.

Speaking of brown bagging… You might be lunching at your own personal drive-in, according to one approach described by Pawlak. BYO types might have to chow down in the cramped comfort of their cars (just hope you’re not parked in the icy boondocks of Lower Lot Z).

Does this mean you’ll even need a reservation to go to the bathroom? Unknown at this time—but you’ll assuredly see those little markers every six feet on the floor to assure social distancing.

— Risa Wyatt

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