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Our Vacation in the Winter of COVID

February 11th, 2021 | By:

Before COVID-19 became a household term and a worldwide nightmare, we typically spent about half the year enjoying various forms of travel.  However, we, like the rest of the world, have drastically adjusted our lifestyles to keep ourselves, as well as our family, friends and community, virus-free.  Some of my lowest points during the last 12 months have been when I had no travel or adventure to look forward to.  At my core, I am a planner with an insatiable appetite to go.  The lack of something for me to plan, and to look forward to, at times was almost suffocating.

The last few years, our winter travels took the form of several weeks of being ski gypsies as we drove from resort to resort between British Columbia and Alberta, Canada and multiple mountain states in the US.  (A multi-resort ski pass not only allowed this but encouraged it.)

This year, with the exception of a few state-allowed activities (such as replenishing groceries), we have been isolated together, just us two, in our little bubble at home.  I was becoming afraid of the world and the invisible boogey man that seemed to be waiting for us right outside our front door.  For someone who has happily traveled the world, this was not a good mental place for me to be.  So began the “what if” discussion.

When Jon and I discussed the reality of a skiing trip this year, we dealt with several emotions, starting with guilt (“We want to go ski when people are unemployed, businesses are closing and people are sick and dying??”).  We rounded the bend of fear (“But it means leaving our sanitized bubble!”) and finally ended up at determination (“We CAN do this!”).

We carefully thought through all of the components of a ski trip and made decisions that allowed us to travel but that we felt reduced our risks.  We drove, because flying would require shuttles on both ends, and we were not comfortable with that idea.  We also felt we had more control over the to and from with our own car, including the ability to leave if we got toSnowshoeing - Lone Mtn Ranch our destination and had a “what the hell were we thinking” reaction to it all.  We decided that traveling from resort to resort increased the risk of exposure, so we opted to just go to a single resort, Big Sky in Montana, for 2 weeks.  We chose to stay in a condominium at the base of the ski hill that not only allowed us to avoid shuttles to/from the parking lot but also gave us a full kitchen.  Also, we selected a destination that clearly posted their COVID polices including (and probably most importantly) that we would be allowed the option of riding all of the lifts only withBig Sky members of our party.  We also liked that they were using a reservation system to control the number of people on the mountain on any given day.  And, finally, we opted to form a “travel pod” with close friends that we knew shared our day-to-day COVID practices and attitudes and we also opted to each rent our own condo as were not ready to cohabitate during our shared time at the resort.  But it was our last decision that may have actually worked out to be our best.  Because we anticipated large, to-capacity numbers of people would be skiing on the weekend, we opted instead to snowshoe.  On one of the days we hired a guide to take our foursome deep into Yellowstone Park in a private snow coach.  That turned out to be a most memorable day for all of us.

Snowshoeing - Yellowstone

After spending two weeks on our Great Winter Escape, here is my version of the reality of travel during a pandemic.

Your comfort zone will be challenged.  Regardless of what side of the discussion you are on, when you travel during a pandemic you will encounter people that don’t share your philosophy.  This has been true for us, to a small degree, even close to home.  But since different states have different requirements regarding masks, restaurants and bars, and what are considered essential services, we were exposed to more “inconsistencies” in terms of the CDC guidelines than we experience at home in our bubble.

Self-care will be your responsibility.  No one else is going to own this for you.  Fortunately, we feel like we’ve had about a year of practice avoiding situations that feel risky.  Will we ever again pump our gas without first donning plastic gloves??  And, don’t even get me started about washing hands.  I am still quite baffled by the thought that this was introduced as a new concept to many.  But, traveling with a supply of hand sanitizer, N-95 masks and Clorox wipes will probably be Standard Operating Procedure for us, at least for a while.

You will need to find your voice.  For someone who is accommodating to a fault, this may have been my biggest challenge.  As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons we felt comfortable skiing where we did was because the resort of was very clear about their COVID rules.  Perhaps at the top of our list was the ability to ride lifts alone if we chose to.  The resort had the lift lines segregated by “Share a lift” or “Prefer to ride with your own group.”  However, even with their best efforts, the system wasn’t without its challenges.  We were still asked by lift operators if we were okay sharing a chair.  We were also asked by other skiers if we minded if they joined us.  More than once, it was up to us to say “just us” and feel comfortable, not apologetic, for our answer.  (The same thing was true for elevators.)

It may not fit your idea of a vacation.  Not all of us agree on what the idea of “vacation” is.  I have long respected the fact that each of us invests a certain amount of our time and money in a vacation and that there are always personal expectations that accompany that investment.  I will be the first to admit that there were certain aspects of this trip that were missing from the typical idea of a “vacation.”  We did not eat out in a restaurant.  We did not enjoy a post-ski cocktail or beer in a popular resort bar.  (Take-out dinners and a travel bar easily solved those problems for us.)  We did not sit outside in a large, shared hot tub and watch the snow fall.  There were moments, like when I read about the “great après ski environment” in some bar, that I would get a twinge of FOMO.  But I went into this vacation knowing that there would be some (self-imposed) limitations.  And I will be perfectly honest.  When we first started the “what if” discussion, I immediately ruled out a couple of destinations because I couldn’t imagine being there and not staying in a certain hotel or having a cocktail in a certain bar.  So, during our time in Big Sky, I just reminded myself that I chose to be in the very situation I was experiencing and, while there were some trade-offs, the positives were very positive indeed.

Travel for me is about so many things.  Finding experiences that feel uniquely ours.  Talking with locals.  Being part of a place and actually being in that place.  Experiencing firsthand the culture or environment of a place.  Broadening my perspective by learning or seeing something new.  Stepping out of my comfort zone just long enough to remind myself what I am made of.  Reconnecting with the vast greatness that is Nature.  This trip had all of those things for me.  And, there were many unexpected, delightful moments that will outlast the occasional discomfort I felt of wearing my mask.  (Our discovery of Lone Mountain Ranch for snowshoeing and the incredible staff there that helped shape our experience.  Being able to buy beers at the small grocery store and drink them on-site while waiting for our take-out.  Being in Yellowstone and feeling like the bison outnumbered humans 100 to 1.  Feeling like we had Yellowstone Park to ourselves. Getting a recommendation from a local for beer that you can’t buy outside of Montana, and then finding it in the little grocery store next to the condo.  Just to name a few.)

So, was it a carefree vacation?  No.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  Would I do it again.  In a heartbeat.


Debbie and Sheri - Skiing  Jeff and Jon

Ramcharger Chairlift

Social distancing is easy on an 8-person chairlift!

Traveling Bar

Thanks to our traveling bar we didn’t have to miss out on après ski

Debbie and Sheri - Lone Mtn Ranch
A quick lean in with no masks but we were holding our breath!

Old Faithful

Bison in Yellowstone  Snowshoe Trail Sign

Yellowstone Snow Coach

Our Snow Coach was built in 1956

Jon in the Steam

If you look closely, you can see Jon through the geyser steam

Hike to Old Faithful Overlook

We snowshoed a half-mile through untracked snow (and climbed 200 feet up) to the Old Faithful Observation Point for the best view in the park, arriving just in time to watch her do her thing.


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