The 2020–21 Colorado ski season is well underway, but in this unprecedented year, the opening hasn’t been without some hiccups. Much in the same way that people (used to) scramble for concert tickets the second they go on sale, when Vail Resorts opened its reservation system in early November, Epic Pass holders reported waiting for hours in unsuccessful attempts to get access to Keystone and Breckenridge resorts on their opening weekends. Ikon Pass holders have reported similar issues when trying to make parking reservations—as of this writing, morning slots are currently booked for every Saturday and Sunday through mid-March at Eldora, as well as through much of January at Copper Mountain.

But beggars can’t be choosers, and the fact that we have a ski season at all is reason enough to cheer. In addition to the reservation systems, skiers and snowboarders will be required to wear face masks in lines on lifts or any common area, maintain physical distancing, and adhere to new crowd limits and lift-loading protocols—all implemented with the goal of keeping the ski areas operating throughout this pandemic-tinged season. If you approach every day on the slopes as if it were a “bonus,” realizing that public health officials could close things down at any time, you’re going in with the right attitude.

Thus, for Ikon and Epic Pass holders in particular, the key words this season are patience and planning. After some early season personal reconnaissance and conversations with resort representatives, here are a few ways you can put this into practice and make the most of this super strange season:

Ski or Ride Where Reservations Are Not Required

Ikon Pass holders, the only area that doesn’t require reservations is Steamboat Springs (opened December 1). The ski area has advised that pass holders should avoid visiting at peak times (holidays and weekends) to prevent overcrowding. Loveland, which also doesn’t require reservations for pass holders, still has season passes available. And if there were ever a time to try one of Colorado’s smaller ski areas—like Sunlight, Monarch, Powderhorn, Purgatory, Ski Cooper, or Wolf Creek—this is the season to do it, as there are typically lighter crowds (and thus, shorter wait times for the lifts) at these areas. Keep in mind that all lift tickets must be purchased online in advance. Again… planning.

Have a Reservation Strategy

The dreaded Epic Pass waiting room on the day the reservation system launched.

For Vail Resorts, it appears the immediate rush for reservations has since subsided. Sara Lococo, senior communications manager for Breckenridge, Keystone, and Crested Butte, said that after the system’s initial launch, they haven’t heard of any issues with long wait times to secure reservations. As of early December, Vail Resorts shifted week-of reservations to become available on a rolling basis throughout the season, meaning that Epic Pass holders can now go into the system on any day of the week, and make a reservation for the next seven days. But that doesn’t mean you should hesitate. Epic Pass holders are encouraged to plan out their days now for the entire season and cancel if/when plans change. Beginning December 8, the reservation system at Vail, Beaver Creek, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, and Keystone will open to all skiers and snowboarders, so use your pass’ advantage while you can.

For Ikon Pass holders headed to Copper or Eldora, get your parking days reserved now, especially if you’re hoping to go on a weekend. Keep checking back, as both areas will release more parking spots throughout the season. According to Copper Mountain spokeswoman Taylor Prather, the best time to check for available spots for the ensuing week at Copper is at 9 a.m. on Monday. Eldora, according to its online parking instructions, allows a total of 14 reserved days. Eldora marketing director Sam Bass says the ski area will release additional parking inventory if and when it becomes available and provides text updates (text ELDORA to 64600 to get on the list) with the latest inventory. Ikon Pass holders heading to Aspen/Snowmass or Arapahoe Basin need to make reservations to hit the slopes, but not for parking. Again, book your days now, especially if you’re hoping to go on a weekend.

And please, if your plans change and you decide not to ski on a certain day, be sure to cancel so your spot on the slopes or in the parking lot can be released back into the pool. Once you cancel your parking or slope reservation, it immediately becomes available to others through the reservation systems. What goes around comes around.

Plan Your Arrival Accordingly (And Expect to Wait)

Due to capacity restrictions, everything is going to take longer than it normally does—parking, buses, and gondola and lift lines. If you’re driving to the slopes from Denver, plan to arrive either well before the lifts start running or around 1 p.m., when traffic and the morning rush on the mountain typically lighten up.

All major Colorado ski areas that use bus systems to reach gondolas and chairlifts are going to be running at limited capacity. Representatives from Breckenridge and Copper Mountain said that the resorts will do their best to meet demands by running as many buses as possible as often as they can. So, if you’re standing at a bus stop with a cluster of people, take a deep breath—or be prepared for a long walk.

Consider Using Other Lifts and Gondolas (And Again, Expect to Wait)

Remember that deep breathing you practiced while waiting for the bus? Keep it going. Because chairlifts and gondolas are limited to a maximum of two unknown parties—and many are only being loaded with people in the same group—lines and wait times will be longer.

To ensure you get the most of your day on the hill, consider queuing up at a less popular lift, instead. On a seemingly quiet weekday a few days after Breckenridge opened, the singles line to the high-speed Colorado Chair was stretched up the hill, but you could glide directly onto the neighboring Chair 5 with no wait. Yeah, it’s slower and doesn’t go as far up the mountain, but at least you’re on your way. This season, you can often mitigate wait time by taking the older, slower way up. Fewer turns are better than no turns!

Come Prepared With Snacks, Water, and Extra Layers

With many Colorado counties on the Level Red restrictions in the state’s COVID-19 response dial, including Summit County, indoor dining at most ski areas are closed this season and may be unlikely to reopen. Outdoor dining will still available at some areas, as will some grab-and-go food items. To ensure you have enough fuel to crush your runs, pack your own protein-filled snacks and water. No matter what, you will be eating and drinking outside, so bundle up. Oh yeah, and don’t forget a mask!