The pandemic prompted so many changes in the ski industry for consumers, from buying lift tickets online or over the phone, to eating lunch in your car with the dining rooms closed. Josh Christie photo

Almost two years ago, the ski industry in Maine and around the country started to shut down. On Instagram, in daily mountain reports, and with newsletters, ski areas announced that they were suspending operations due to the spread of COVID-19. In those early days, I was hopeful that we could “slow the spread,” and return to the slopes after two weeks or a month. The changes in operations, as we now know, have lasted much longer.

After a shortened end to the 2020 season, and a very different 2021 season – with closed facilities, parking lot dining, and socially distanced chairlift rides – things are starting to resemble skiing as we once knew it on Maine’s mountains. Indoor dining has returned and the singles line is back. Big events like Sunday River’s Spring Fest Weekend (April 1-3) and Sugarloaf’s Reggae Fest (April 7-10) will close out the season. While it’s undoubtedly a new normal, things are starting to feel more normal.

As we near the end of this season, I’m feeling reflective about what changes the global pandemic has brought to skiing, and – maybe surprisingly – what changes I hope will stay.

Perhaps the biggest unexpected change to skiing and snowboarding has been explosive growth, both in the number of people hitting the slopes and the types of people visiting. The National Ski Areas Association reported 59 million skier visits last year, the fifth-best season in the NSAA’s history. And this growth was despite tough restrictions that limited both interstate and international travel. The lack of travel options and the strong desire of folks to get outdoors resulted in new people entering winter sports, and the participation drove visits at local hills along with destination resorts.

The Outdoor Industries Association reported that last year, new skiers and snowboarders (they didn’t distinguish between the sports) were younger, more middle class, and more diverse. The average age dropped from 54 to 45 – a boon in sports plagued by an aging population. The number of nonwhite and middle-income participants also jumped by 5% each. In an industry facing existential threats in recent decades of declining participation and a warming climate, growth and diversification are the rare pandemic bright spot.

One surprisingly enjoyable part of the last two years – for me, at least – was the shift from in-lodge dining to dining à la carte. Or, maybe more accurately, a la car. With lodge dining rooms closed for the last two seasons, brown bag lunches were relegated to the parking lot. While I expected to hate this, it was kind of delightful to chow down sitting in the open back of my SUV. This was particularly true at the end of the day, when the parking lot turned into an impromptu tailgate party. Knowing where to park to make my car a ski-in, ski-out dining destination took a bit of planning, but I expect I’ll be saving money by continuing this picnic lunch tradition next season.


I’m a little more mixed on the shift in lift ticket purchases moving from the ticket counter to online or over the phone before a trip. On the one hand, for years areas have pushed people to buy tickets in advance, evening out their revenue stream and promoting skiing on quieter midweek days. And that seems to have worked – between cheaper tickets and a COVID-necessitated work-from-home schedule for many blue-collar workers, resorts in Maine and around the country reported busier slopes outside of holidays. But, on the other hand, advance ticket buying took a bit of the spontaneity out of my skiing. While it wasn’t a huge hurdle to pop online to buy a ticket (we’re all shopping online these days, after all), I found myself defaulting to using my season pass instead of exploring. And, while I don’t think it impacted many areas here in Maine, nearby resorts like Loon would regularly sell out in advance of the weekend, leaving last-minute skiers with no chance to grab a ticket.

As a lifelong introvert, the thing I was most surprised to miss during the pandemic was the singles line and riding up the lift with strangers. And not even because only loading groups that arrived together slowed down the lift lines! No, I missed the serendipity of connection and conversation with strangers. For my entire life, I’ve been able to play “Six Degrees of John Christie,” finding connections of connections who knew my longtime industry insider father. In addition to that, I’ve started discovering personal connections – either to my bookstore in Portland, my own writing, or life in the Maine mountains. Just a couple weeks ago, I hopped on the Superquad and met the spouse of a fellow UMF Ski Industries alum – a chance meeting that couldn’t have happened over the last two years.

It’s hard to say what kind of shadow COVID will cast over skiing and snowboarding in the coming seasons , even if we don’t see more variants or surges. While we’re all undoubtedly ready to see the pandemic in the rear view, here’s hoping that the changes it brought to skiing don’t all disappear.

Josh Christie is the author of four books, most recently “Skiing Maine,” and co-owner of Print: A Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Portland. He also writes about beer, books and the outdoors.

Comments are no longer available on this story