Wax the skis and snowboards, dig out the ski boots and locate the goggles; it’s time to head to the slopes. Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area opened for the 2020-2021 season yesterday and is open daily into April, if all goes as planned.

Owners Aaron and Becky Maddox start their 11th season at the ski area with the unveiling of a significant upgrade. The Chute Lift, where once the old T-bar hauled skiers up the slope, now carries skiers and riders on two-person chairs through a corridor of pine trees. While the chairs are the same, as are the series of poles along the route, the difference is at the top.

Previously, the chairs went up a steep final rise to the top of the lift. At that point skiers and snowboarders hopped off, and slide down a short but often slick runout into a rather dished-out depression. Then it was sometimes a mad scramble to get out of the way before the next riders arrived.

Even seasoned skiers and snowboarders likely had occasional trepidation when getting off, but for beginners it was probably the scariest part of the whole ski outing. If things went wrong, as sometimes happened, they might fall, blocking the path for those getting off the next chair. Getting up with skis all askew is no easy feat. Worse, they might careen straight ahead, smack into the pole holding the lift’s bullwheel.

That source of anxiety is gone. Aaron Maddox said skiers get off to a flatter grade, and the risk of hitting the bullwheel pole is gone, since it is no longer there.

“The upgrade really helps those who might have panicked previously when getting off the lift,” Aaron Maddox said. “It is much easier now.”

Those riding the lift will also note fewer stops and starts. Previously, the lift operator had to halt the lift every time a mishap occurred up top. Hopefully those will be significantly fewer now.

That’s the major infrastructure improvement at the ski area this year. Aaron Maddox said the upgrading was a couple years in the planning. Due to that, in spite of the ripple impacts from Covid-19, they decided to go ahead with it this summer and have the improved lift up and running this ski season.

Other than the new lift, the most noticeable changes will be operational adjustments due to Covid-19. A full list of safety measures is on the ski area website (www.snowyrangeski.com).

The changes start with purchasing a lift ticket. Becky Maddox said those who typically buy a lift ticket when they arrive at the ticket window will need to plan ahead instead.

“All tickets are sold online now,” Becky Maddox said. “The tickets are picked up at the outdoor ticket window, but that is only for picking up and not for buying tickets.”

Those who have season passes do not need to make reservations. Aaron Maddox said they estimate how many of those pass holders come on any given day. There will be a limited number of tickets sold for each day, but those limits are unlikely to be reached except, possibly, on Saturdays and holidays.

Remember to bring your mask. They are required in the lift lines, on the lift and in all indoor facilities. Spacing is also required in the lift line, honoring the 6 foot distance.

“Ride the lift only with those you came with,” Becky Maddox said. “If you arrive together, ride together. That also goes with indoor facilities where, if you come together, dine together.”

To limit numbers in the lodge, Becky Maddox said to make your car your mini lodge.

“There won’t be any gear storage in the lodge, and people need to put on gear in their vehicle and go there for lunch,” she said. While there will still be dining options in the lodge, social distancing is required and all county-wide guidelines for bars and restaurants will be followed.

Both Aaron and Becky Maddox agreed their primary concern is to keep their employees healthy. If any were to get the virus and others had to quarantine, keeping enough staff on duty could be problematic.

“We want to keep our employees safe,” Becky Maddox said. “Our primary focus is on them, as well as those who come to enjoy the slopes.”

For those planning to rent skis, reserve equipment in advance. It will be ready when you arrive for a quick pick-up. Plan ahead for lessons. Group lesson class sizes are limited and all lessons must be purchased in advance to ensure availability.

“Coming for a day of skiing or snowboarding can be a delightfully socially distanced experience,” Aaron Maddox said. “Just plan ahead and be prepared for the changes.”

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