Skiing in the Reservation System Era- What the Hell?

Bridger Bowl Ski area in Montana. Photo taken in 2020 before it closed down for the season due to the Covid pandemic

Skiing to me has always meant towering mountain peaks, fragrant pine trees, blue skies and lots of light fluffy powder. In the 80’s, we wore skin-tight Roffe spandex ski pants with contrasting-colored gators that flared out under the knee and fit over your massive, rear-entry, one buckle Solomon boots. Our jackets were either fluorescent neon numbers purchased from a high-end ski shop, or a Mexican poncho picked up from a trip to Tijuana. Either style was perfection. On our heads we wore nothing, except some mirrored Vaurnet sunglasses, or I Ski sunglasses with leather “shields” at the side. The goal of the day was to catch as much air as possible and get a raccoon eyes tan to show the world you are a “Hot Dogger”.

None of my memories of skiing then, or in recent times, included ski resorts offering limited capacity (exception: Deer Valley, but that’s a different blog) or selling out of lift tickets entirely. As a Montanan for the last several decades, this scenario was unheard of.

Today, skiing all major resorts in the Rocky Mountain region now means heated front entry ski boots, a cool helmet, iridescent lensed goggles, a color coordinated Jelt belt on your loose fitting Gortex ski pants and of course, reservations. While that may sound normal to some people, especially those traveling from afar to spend the week up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Big Sky, Montana, to the local skier, who lives in a resort town, it is absolute hell.

I completely understand the Covid pandemic has forced ski resorts to limit the number of skiers on the hill, in order to separate the masses and avoid crowds in the lodges. However, there has got to be a better way to keep us safe from ourselves and from contaminating other skiers on the mountain. I also do not believe the reservation system has prevented herds of people from amassing.

Take Bridger Bowl, in Bozeman, Montana, for example. My family and I have had season passes at Bridger for 20+ years, enjoying the small-town vibe and relatively light crowds, except on powder days. While the crowds have grown in recent years, a skier could always find a way to hit the slopes on any given day; then enjoy the dirt-bag après ski beers at The Griz Bar in Bridger Bowl’s parking lot. (A must for any skier missing the “good old days”.)

Now, with reservation system, if a person wants to purchase a ski ticket or use their prepaid season pass, they have to login to bridgerbowl.com, choose a day, and see if there is any availability. For Bridger, this can be done up to four days in advance. It is now February and I have yet to succeed in securing a ticket on the days I can get away from work.

The reservation system frustration is not just the bane of local skiers. Last month, I visited my dad in Jackson Hole for the weekend. I wrongly ass-umed if I was paying full price, which is $177 at Jackson, that I could purchase a one day lift ticket on a random, non-holiday Saturday. Jackson is HUGE, so they obviously allow a lot of people to ski, and they must want our money. Even attempting to purchase one adult lift ticket, two days in advance, I was denied. It was quite disheartening. I really wanted to ski with my 77-year-old dad, who rips it up every day of the season.

The good news is that the trip was not a total loss. I was able to secure three adult lift tickets on a Saturday to Grand Targhee Resort two days in advance. I guess Targhee is still relatively unknown. In the reservation system era, that is a big score. Once you purchase your reserved ski ticket, just remember that you will need to show your ID and some physical validation of your purchase at the ticket window, whether it is a print-out of the emailed receipt, or a screen shot of the confirmation email on your phone. Whatever you do, please do NOT leave those items in the car, because while the number of ski tickets sold that day has been limited because of Covid restrictions, your car is still parked a mile away. Seriously.

So, the gist is:

  • Login to your desired ski area website up to four days before you want to ski to make a reservation. (This time frame varies from resort to resort, so be sure to verify.) If it is a holiday weekend, look for tickets immediately.
  • If your reservation time is unavailable, keep checking daily, as people may cancel, or the resort may open up more space.
  • If you’re still denied, login the morning you want to ski to see if there are last minute cancellations which open up tickets. Keep in mind, the resort may open up half-day tickets that day as well.
  • Hope and pray.

Jen Perry owner of Jelt, skiing with a friend in 1987.

The Author and her best friend, Mammoth Ski Mountain, circa 1987