How Northstar Is Handling the Covid Ski Season

No one waiting indoors for the Gondola.

After spending two days skiing at Squaw Valley, a week later we ventured to Northstar at Tahoe Resort to hit a few more slopes and check out the Covid-19 precautions there.

My overall take was that Northstar did not reduce capcity as much as Squaw did. Although we felt comfortable enough to come back for our second previously scheduled day, if I had to choose one place to ski for the rest of the 2021 spring season, I would pick Squaw.

Here’s how our day went:

  • Parking
    Unlike at Squaw, we weren’t able to park close to the Village at Northstar on our first visit. This wasn’t too surprising to us, since so much of Northstar’s parking is available only by shuttle bus, but we were hoping to avoid taking one. My husband dropped James and me off at the usual drop-off circle, then parked, then waited extra-long for the bus because they were letting a limited number of people ride. When he was finally able to board a bus, he felt there were people seated too close to him. Not all the windows were open.
    Because he wasn’t too crazy about this situation, we made sure to get there earlier the next visit, and this time he was able to park in one of the lots walking distance from the Village.
  • Ticket lines
    Like with Squaw, we had purchased our lift tickets online in advance, but needed to pick up physical lift cards on arrival. Like Squaw, the line to do this was outdoors with an attempt made to keep people from standing too close together. The line I waited in was leading up to the stage by the ice rink, where they had set up a little table to process people. However, I didn’t have to wait very long before a staff member came up to me and used a handheld device to scan the ticket on my phone and activate two-day cards for us.
  • Getting on the mountain
    Like at Squaw, your first lift at Northstar is usually in an enclosed car, here called the Gondola. But unlike at Squaw, Northstar’s Gondolas are only made to hold up to six people, so there was no pressure to share a car with another group. In fact, our family almost always has a Gondola to ourselves even when it’s not a pandemic.
    If you’re skiing solo or with only one other person and you feel uncomfortable asking for your own Gondola, you also have the option of a regular lift up to the mountain base area.
    The line for the Gondola looked long at times because it was all outdoors, but it always moved fast. Once you get inside the area where people usually wait in line and see it all empty, you realize why the line was stretching for what looked like a long way outside. There were staff hanging around the line reminding people to wear masks and encouraging them to head over to the lift if the Gondola line got at all long.
  • The Lodge
    You have to go inside the base lodge to use the bathroom or get water. They have set it up to be one-way, so you go in the front door and out the back. Since the only water bottle filler I saw was at the fountain next to the bathroom, make sure to bring along your bottle if you’re heading in to use the facilities.
    I never saw too many people inside so this set up worked fine to me. It’s a little tiring to have to walk all the way through the building then back around, though.
  • Lifts
    As with Squaw, people are allowed to share a lift with another group as long as there are open seats between them, but at the same time when we asked to have a lift for just the three of us, the staff was happy to grant us that.
Fewer people on the slopes means you can get that selfie with no one else in it!
  • On the slopes
    While the bottom couple of runs seemed as congested as ever, once you got up and spread out on the mountain, it the runs felt sparsley used, which was especially nice given that it was the week between Christmas and New Years, normally the busiest of the year.
  • Lunch
    I think all the ski resorts have removed some outdoor tables, with the idea that the tables will be far apart, but this also forces people to choose between sharing the remaining tables with strangers or sitting on the ground or standing to eat. It was challenging to find a table to ourselves. They have some tables meant for just four, but others are long picnic style tables and the first day we ended up perching at the opposite end from another family. My son was unhappy with that and spent his lunch sitting on the ground instead. The second day, we tried to time our lunch a little earlier than others and did manage to snag our own table, but only after stalking it for awhile. When we were done, we had people waiting on us to be done with it, not to mention a bunch of other people passing and asking if we were almost done.

    Overall, I felt safe enough skiing at Northstar, but I did’t feel as safe as we had at Squaw. I also felt a bit sad about the things that couldn’t be done at Northstar during Covid, like the champagne toast at 2 p.m., free s’mores at 4 p.m., and of course free ice skating.

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