The days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping, and the snow is falling. Get ready to fire up the chairlifts because opening day is just around the corner! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and it’s even sweeter than normal this time since last season was cut unexpectedly short. Because the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hang around and impact our daily lives, the upcoming winter is going to look a little different (see Ski Utah's information about how COVID-19 is impacting the season here), so we’ve made this opening day checklist to help get you dialed in for the first runs of the season.
Even experienced skiers and snowboarders can benefit from making a list and checking it twice. Just last year I—an extremely qualified ski bum with a plethora of opening days and an abundance of skipped work on my resume—showed up to the hill on day one without my boots. My mood shifted from hyped to hysterical rather quickly. Don't make the same mistake. Without further ado, here’s everything you need to crush opening day.
Sounds pretty obvious, but it’s easy enough to miss one of these items, as described above. It’s the original phone, wallet, keys. Reciting these triptychs every day on the way to the mountain can save a lot of frustration.
Avoiding the lodge—all public indoor spaces, really—when possible is a good idea while there’s still a pandemic going on. Getting dehydrated while working hard at elevation is a less good idea, so pack some water in your pocket. Myriad collapsible water bottles, like this one and this one, are suitable for the task depending on your preferred size or affinity for products named after egg-laying mammals. They keep you hydrated and they get smaller while you drink them.
Per the prior advice about steering clear of the lodge when possible, pocket snacks are an invaluable tool to keep you going for more laps without having to step inside alongside a bunch of strangers. I wouldn’t deign to know what your dietary needs are, but I’ve heard from enough devout fans of everything from pocket bacon to nearly inedible workout gels to know there’s something out there for you. If you need some guidance, check out the Snack Chats Instagram page and join in their quest to find the best pocket snack on earth.
Many resorts will require more than a single layer Buff-style tube shaped headwear as a mask when doing things like loading the chairlift, entering the lodge and interacting with resort employees. Do yourself and the entire community a favor by bringing a bonafide mask to the mountain. There are fun, stylish options out there, so use this as an opportunity to flex your personality a little.
Even though your Buff (or similar) doesn’t count as a COVID mask, it does a great job of protecting you from the sun. Most of us have been in hibernation and are ripe for a wicked sunburn during that first day on snow, plus your Buff will provide some added wind and weather protection in case it's cold and your blood hasn’t thickened after a summer spent basking in the heat. The sun is harsh at elevation and goggle tans are for the spring, people. Act accordingly.
Ideally, you got your skis or board tuned during the offseason and are showing up to the hill with sharp edges, a new stone grind and fresh wax, but of course, you didn’t and you aren’t. Your bases are covered in dust and your bindings are a mess of spiderwebs, but all’s not lost. A rub on wax can easily get you through opening day without bogging down in manmade snow and varied early season conditions. There are numerous types of rub on wax that will get the job done. Just make sure to choose an appropriate temperature wax for your conditions—all temp wax, surprisingly, works in a lot of temps. Also consider some of the more environmentally friendly options now available. They work just as well as their fluorocarbon-based competitors without polluting the watershed in the mountains. When you’re done, go pony up for a real tune. It’s well worth it.
Toss a couple of ibuprofen or acetaminophen in your pocket. If it’s been a while since you’ve skied or snowboarded, chances are muscles will get sore and your boots will feel like vices. All the unpleasant realities of skiing and snowboarding get buried in the deep recesses of our minds as we dream of powder and acclimate to the peculiarities of rigid boots and cold temperatures. They’ll come flooding back around lap three, so be prepared. Plus, you’ll save cash: those little blister packs with two pills in the lodge are the same price as about 100 doses at the pharmacy. Take as directed, obviously.
I don’t know if you run hot or cold or if opening day is going to be dumping or sunny, but it’s wise to always take the weather on the mountain seriously. Whether you’re deep in the backcountry on a hut trip—I wish—or sharing a skinny white ribbon of snow—sounds like a more common opening day—being comfortable and warm always makes skiing and riding better. Synthetic and wool layers only. Cotton kills, y’all.
Here’s another obvious one that will ruin the day if you forget it. Sure, you can pick up your season pass in person on opening day at most mountains, but you’ll be stuck in line with a bunch of other people who are doing the same thing. That’s a pretty maddening place to be when you’re itching to get those first turns in. Pick yours up in advance so you can stroll straight to the chairlift.
Après season starts on day one. Come prepared. Grab the warmest jacket you can find, a vintage neon beanie or trucker hat and some big reflective sunglasses. Chances are every mountain will have some type of outdoor après environment set up, even if your favorite indoor spaces are closed or at capacity. No matter where your après occurs, stay cozy and stylish.
Some resorts are requiring parking, advanced lift ticket purchase and reservations. Keep yourself up to date here. You don't want to show up and not be able to make some turns.
Anything else I forgot for opening day? Let us hear about it in the comments.