By Kate Merrill

BOSTON (CBS) – Some ski resorts have already opened for the season but they will have a different look. It’s more important than ever to plan ahead.

Skiing is the perfect pandemic activity – you’re outside and keeping six feet apart on the slope is usually not a problem. However, everything else about a day of skiing during a pandemic now presents a number of challenges, according to resort operators.

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“Getting you up to the top of the hill is where the changes are going to come into play,” explained Wachusett Mountain Marketing Director Tom Meyers.

Groups travelling to the slope together will be able to ride lifts together, otherwise you’ll need to distance. That means on a four person lift, two can ride, but they’ll need to keep the middle seats open.

The mask mandate and all the other safety guidelines will be enforced, including indoor capacity limits, which means you’ll probably have to plan on spending most of your ski day outside. Resorts suggest thinking of your car as a mini-lodge. That’s where you’ll need to gear up and store your boot bag and cooler.

Most mountains will have restaurant service, but again, capacity will be limited. Karolyn Castaldo of Sunday River says they plan to use hotel conference space to add additional dining tables.

“We have about 46,000 square feet of conference space. That’s really going to allow us to still seat and feed a whole bunch of people without needing to pack the restaurants,” she told WBZ-TV.

Wachusett is adding all kinds of additional outdoor seating and dining options from takeout windows to food and beer trucks. They’ll have propane heaters on the patios to keep skiers warm outside while they are dining. And for a quick warmup there are propane-fueled ‘Dragon’ benches.

“You may have seen these at Gillette Stadium,” Meyers explained. The benches keep players warm during those frigid late-season games.

Almost anywhere you ski, deciding to buy lift tickets at the last minute will be tough this year. Most resorts are requiring skiers to buy in advance.

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“There will be limited quantities,” Meyers said. “The more in advance you plan, the better.”

Wachusett is trying out a whole new ticket system this year. Instead of a day-long lift ticket, they will be sold in sessions between three and four hours. There are morning, afternoon, early evening and late evening sessions, which will sell for about what a traditional half-day pass would cost.

“This is a way for us to try to maintain and control capacity and allow more people to share the mountain,” Meyers explained.

You’ll need a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for 14 days to ski in Maine or Vermont.

Some of those resorts are offering special lodging packages to encourage skiers to pack their laptop in with their gear and work slope-side, grabbing a few runs in between Zoom meetings.

“People have more flexibility and people want to spend more time in the places where they vacation,” Castaldo said.

Each resort has their own set of rules. Killington in Vermont, for example, is requiring folks to make parking reservations as a way to help them manage capacity.

Bottom line, you’re going to want to make a plan in advance. Hence the slogan many resorts are using this year: “Know before you go.”

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Check these sites for more information: Wachusett Mountain, skivermont.com, Vermont Ski Resort Guidance, Maine Skiing Checklist, Ski New Hampshire Resources

Kate Merrill