One year ago, chairlifts sat still during what should have been a boisterous month of spring skiing, with Hawaiian shirts, bikini downhills and pond skims marking the end of another bountiful winter of Cascadian skiing. But with Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order in place, local skiers and snowboarders put their gear away early, unsure what the following winter would bring.

The good news is that winter 2020-2021 delivered both abundant snowfall and a full ski season. No ski area shut down, even temporarily, due to public health restrictions. But like so many aspects of life, ski areas looked and felt different. Indoor dining was shut down for most of the season, live music was verboten, and face coverings were de rigueur. Typical ski day habits like the midmorning cocoa break on a chilly day were off the table. Instead of leading to a cheery après-ski scene, the 4 o’clock run to the base area ended with skiers quietly filing out to the parking lot like workers getting off a shift.

With this upside-down season behind us, The Seattle Times contacted our locally accessible ski areas — Crystal Mountain, Mission Ridge, Mount Baker, Stevens Pass, Summit at Snoqualmie and White Pass — for a preliminary sense of what next season will look like. Here’s what they said.

Will I need reservations? Can I show up and buy a lift ticket?

The biggest change this past winter was the reservation system deployed at Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass and Summit at Snoqualmie. Even with a season pass, you had to ensure a reservation — no mean feat on weekends and holidays. For those who were stymied trying to land a Saturday powder day, good news: All three resorts have announced there are currently no plans to require reservations next season.

That said, there is bad news for procrastinators: Buying a lift ticket online in advance will be standard going forward. Mount Baker is the only place currently promising to sell walk-up tickets next winter. But as the season unfurls, even those advance lift tickets may be sold in limited quantities. White Pass made fewer advanced tickets available this past winter on days they expected to see a high volume of season pass users. Summit at Snoqualmie also hopes to reduce visitation on peak weekend days.

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Skiers and snowboarders make their way down a run at the Summit at Snoqualmie Pass on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2019. (Andy Bao / The Seattle Times)

Will getting to and parking at the mountain be any different?

Going to the snow was popular this past winter. Perhaps too popular. Overcrowded parking areas on weekends and holidays were a headache up and down the Cascades. Mount Bachelor in Oregon even implemented a parking reservation system. While no local ski area has announced an intention to do the same, Summit at Snoqualmie is planning to provide some preferred pass holder parking lots next season.

The best solutions for the parking conundrum, meanwhile, are likely a return to pre-pandemic car pool habits. While no resort has announced car pool incentives for next winter, like free preferred parking, those perks may return.

Embracing alternative transportation options will also be a trend going forward. Summit at Snoqualmie hopes to bring back the Summit Shuttle service that provides transportation between the resort’s different base areas, and Mission Ridge hopes to resurrect shuttle service from downtown Wenatchee. White Pass was in talks with a transportation provider just before the pandemic. Crystal stood up shuttles from Enumclaw in 2019-2020 and may expand those next season.

A skier rides a lift at Crystal Mountain Dec. 2, 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Will I have to wear a face covering and will the chairlifts load in full?

After reservations, the biggest other changes to skiing this past winter were the mandatory use of face coverings at base areas and in lift lines, as well as watching chairlifts head up half-empty. Empty seats were once considered bad form that wasted precious uphill capacity, but they became a common sight as ski areas did not mix groups not skiing together.

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Every mountain queried announced its intention to follow Washington public health regulations, but specifically stressed the intention to return to full chairlifts if permitted. No one likes unnecessarily long lift lines.

Will I be able to take a cocoa break or eat the soup of the day indoors? Will any of the new food and beverage options stick around next winter?

Some ski areas resumed indoor food service by late season under the “Healthy Washington” guidelines introduced by Inslee. Those options should remain open if they are permitted to be, but last winter’s indoor dining shutdown made necessity the mother of invention. Some of those new options are perhaps here to stay.

Summit at Snoqualmie, for one, is eager to refine its mobile ordering system. Mount Baker built expanded outdoor areas and hopes to keep them around as needed. White Pass conjured up Old No. 3, a wood-fired pizza vendor slinging pies out of a former lift engine room, which turned out to be a hit.

A groomer preps the runs at Mount Baker Ski Area for opening day with Chair 8 and Mount Shuksan in the background. (Courtesy of Mount Baker Ski Area)

Will après-ski, live music and on-mountain events be back next winter?

Everyone sure hopes so. While Crystal Mountain cobbled together a late season events calendar, including an uphill weekend for splitboarders and backcountry skiers and a series of spring themed weeks, the calendar was still unseasonably barren. The 35-year-old Mount Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, arguably the most internationally renowned winter sports event in the Pacific Northwest, was postponed to February 2022. White Pass erected its annual snow castle but otherwise canceled the rest of its Winter Carnival, which attracts hundreds of families from across the region. That event has been rescheduled for March 5-6, 2022.

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What will the vibe be like inside the Foggy Goggle at Stevens Pass, the Backcountry Bar at Alpental, or the Snorting Elk at Crystal? It remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that a return to normal for skiers and snowboarders means a return to the après-ski spots where the day’s exploits are rehashed and embellished. Everybody’s sickest line gets just a little bit steeper and their biggest jump just a little bit higher after a few rounds.

Can I still tailgate?

“Your car is your base camp” was the mantra of this past ski season and local shredders embraced that motto with elaborate setups sheltered from the elements to cook up hot food and serve up cold beers after a full day on the mountain. While hopefully eating and drinking at the resort will be increasingly available next winter, no one has announced plans to clamp down on the enhanced tailgate atmosphere or otherwise discourage brown-baggers.

Skiers ride up the new Wenatchee Express chairlift at Mission Ridge. The Wenatchee Express is Washington state’s first bubble chairlift. (Greg Scruggs / Special to The Seattle Times)

Can I earn my turns and ski uphill next season?

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding boomed this past winter ahead of uncertainty about resort operations. This demanding sport isn’t easy to master, however, and practicing in the safer confines of a managed, patrolled resort is a good way to learn the ropes.

Dedicated all-day uphill routes will remain available at Crystal Mountain and White Pass. Toward the end of this past season, Summit at Snoqualmie ran a trial for designated uphill routes at Summit East and Alpental. Keep an eye out for the evolution of that option for next season. Mission Ridge has a dedicated uphill route, but it is only available before and after operating hours.

Always double-check with ski patrol before traveling uphill inbounds at a resort. Uphill routes can be closed without warning.

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