Ed Pizza: This week's episode of the Miles to Go Podcast is brought to you by the New Wyndham Rewards Earner Cards, designed with road trippers and road warriors in mind. Apply today, and you can earn up to 45,000 bonus points, enough for up to six free nights at thousands of hotels by Wyndham around the world. Whether it's the No-Fee Wyndham Rewards Earner Card, the $75 annual fee Earner Plus Card or the $95 annual fee Earner Business Card, Wyndham Rewards has a card that's right for you. Plus, with up to eight X points on eligible hotel stays and purchases, up to five X points on marketing, advertising, utilities, purchases with the earner business card and up to four X points on restaurant and grocery purchases, your next gateway could be closer than you think. Earn like you mean it every day and get to free nights faster with the Wyndham Rewards Earner Cards, terms and conditions apply. Learn more at wyndhamrewardscreditcard.com.
Speaker 2: You're listening to the Miles to Go Podcast, the go-to source for travel tips, news and reviews you can't afford to miss. Now, here's your host, travel expert, Ed Pizza.
Ed Pizza: Hey guys, welcome back to the Miles to Go Podcast. It's been an up and down year, with most of us stuck at home, not really being able to experience those normal vacations. It was easier to find fun stuff to do when the weather was warm, but social distancing was also a lot easier when you weren't freezing your butt off. As we entered the cold months popular activities, like the annual ski trip, involved logistics that I just hadn't considered. So, we're going to dive into the conditions at ski slopes in the U.S during COVID and some fails and tips you might not be thinking about right now.
Before we do that, I want to ask you guys for a quick favor. If you enjoy the show on a weekly basis, please leave us a five-star rating and a review wherever you're listening to this Podcast. There's a link in the show notes that will help you do that in less than a minute. Okay, so mommy points. My buddy, Summer Hull from TPG is back with us. She is a huge ski buff, and based on our joint family ski trip last year, definitely has way more skills than I do on the slopes. Summer, it sounds like some of your ski plans have been thrown for a bit of a loop, but you still did manage to ride a lift or maybe two?
Summer Smith-Hull: Maybe two. First, thank you for having me back. And I'm so glad we got to ski together last year, because Lord knows it's not happening this year, but we will make it back. So yeah, I was able to cover the opening day of the First Vail Resorts property to open for this season, which turned out to be Keystone in Colorado. And so, I went there as their guests to see how they were managing the whole thing. And from meeting the private lift instructor outside and away from everyone else to having to make a reservation to get your chili for lunch, starting at 7:00 AM that morning, to of course wearing mask. It was really interesting.
Skiing is so good for social distancing and fresh air and spreading out on the mountain, but it definitely has a layer of pinch points, more so, if you were still learning or you have kids that are still learning. But even if you don't need any of that lesson sort of thing, you're still going to be in lift lines, you're still going to have to go to the bathroom, you still may get hungry. And I remember, Ed, when we were skiing together last year in Maryland and we were in that lodge and there was not a seat to be had. There was people everywhere and this was in February. So, there probably was COVID lurking, we just weren't quite aware of it at the time, but it was already here.
Ed Pizza: Right, yeah.
Summer Smith-Hull: I just think back to that and how ski resorts have really had to change so much to even have a shot this year. And they've done it with mixed success, but by and large, they are open and the lifts are turning.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. The ski lodge thing, I was talking with our buddy, Jen from Deals We Like, and she had taken a trip. And that was the first thing that popped into my mind was just, gosh, it must be impossible for them to manage the ski lodges because they're never big enough as it is.
Summer Smith-Hull: No. And they've had regulations that keep changing. So, a lot of the ski resorts are in Colorado and Colorado has been using a colored system for their counties and a lot of the ski counties like Summit County and the County where Telluride is, they have found themselves in the red level at times, I think Pitkin County where Aspen Snowmass is, is in it, as we're recording this. Basically, what happens then, is you have to close all indoor dining, no exceptions, even if you're a ski resort. And the transitions they've had to make to get people food, it's just wild. And it can change week to week, whether or not people can eat indoors or not. So, some of them, like Telluride have gone to using old gondolas outside as sheltered areas you can eat your lunch in, if you want. Some smaller ski resorts like Wolf Creek in Colorado have basically said, "Pack your own lunch. No." So, each resort is doing it very differently, but it can even vary week to week at a particular resort just based on that County or State's restrictions at the time.
Ed Pizza: Well, and pack your own lunch when the temperatures may be below freezing, that's an interesting proposition.
Summer Smith-Hull: It really is. A lot of ski resorts though have said that too, about the lodges and lockers in general. And they've been very explicit that your car is your dining room, your locker room, et cetera. And don't expect any of those facilities this year. We are here to get you up and down the mountain, but the rest of it is on you. And not all resorts have gone that far, but some of them have, especially some of the smaller resorts that just don't have the infrastructure to pull off distancing people while feeding them and letting them change clothes and et cetera.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. And I know we've all got our own pain thresholds for this stuff. When I think about... Obviously, we've got young kids and I think about how involved it is, getting them ready to go out in the slopes with the layers and the boots and the socks and getting everything just right. Getting 100% ready for the slopes in my car, that scares the crap out of me-
Summer Smith-Hull: I know.
Ed Pizza: I don't want to try that.
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. So when I went to cover opening day at Keystone, they put me at one of their properties that's right on the mountain, which was great, but it turned out to be essential in this COVID age of skiing for me, because there are risks that I will take, and then, there're risks that aren't worth it for me. And going into the bathroom with all of the others that are doing it at the same time, because that's just how Murphy's Law worked. I'd rather not if I can avoid it. So, I just retreated to my room that day for lunch and bathroom breaks and stuff, since it was right on the hill.
And when I started planning out my family ski adventures for the year, that's what I kept in mind as I was figuring out where we were going to stay for our active ski days. Now that trip's already suffered some significant cuts, which we can talk about, but the part of it that remains as a potential, we will be right on the mountain, so that we can have our own room as our own lockers and bathrooms and place to eat lunch, et cetera.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. You bring up a good point that ski in, ski out, which is something, obviously, you and I have known each other for a long time. I've always known me to be a big fan of ski in, ski out. This seems like, if there was ever a picture perfect example of why ski in, ski out is so great, it's this.
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. And I'm a big fan also of renting a big ski house and sharing it with family. And that usually is at odds with ski in and ski out because we aren't working with that sort of budget. When we're ski in and ski out, we're usually on points. So, we have had to make that trade-off decision at times. But those are some of the ski plans that we had for this coming season that we've cut already, is basically every single ski house we thought we were going to do, we've cut for one reason or another. And as it turns out, not being able to use it as your personal ski locker is one of the reasons why it's just not going to be a good match for us because I still have a five-year-old. So, she's not going to be just self-sufficient on a hill for the entire ski day.
Ed Pizza: No, for sure. And you mentioned some of the rental homes that you'd book and I thought you had an interesting problem pop up, which makes complete sense, looking at it in the rear view mirror. But I have to imagine, I certainly didn't think of it when you told me that you guys were planning some ski vacations. But you ended up with an issue where you had a house that was booked in a jurisdiction where you guys were going to have multiple families staying under one roof and after you booked they said, "Yeah. No."
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. So, We were going to lean into this whole remote school, remote work situation and take advantage of that, and do about a month remote from Colorado, which sounded okay at the time. So, this trip was going to start off President's Weekend, we were going to meet up with two of my sets of cousins and their kids, as we've done some different ski years. And it's a blast, always a blast. And we were going to do the testing beforehand and all of that, to try to make it safer, which as it turns out wasn't enough. We would've ended up canceling it anyways because cases are just too high for us to be comfortable with that.
But before we got to that decision point, even, what happened is this house in Telluride, that county hit red level back in December. And what that means is that there are no shared household rentals. So, even if you rented an eight-bedroom ski home, you can only put one family in it, and the owner of this rental, appropriately so, because they can face fines and they don't want extra COVID cases in their County was very clear that this would be enforced and they will be monitoring how many cars are there and et cetera. So, we would not skirt these rules anyways, but even if you're thinking, "Oh, who will know?"
Ed Pizza: Right.
Summer Smith-Hull: They will know. So, you couldn't have more than one household in a rental home or any other lodging for that matter. And so, there was no way that we would go forward with this because the house was too big and expensive for one family. And if we were going to go as one family, we'd rather stay on the mountain and stay in a hotel room. So, eventually, that County and several others in Colorado, including Summit County, which is home to Breckenridge and Keystone, they have come out of red level for now, and so the restriction has eased to two families. But that still wouldn't have done it. Am I going to pick between one cousin or the other like, "You're still invited, you're not invited anymore"? There just are real logistical challenges to stay within the ever-changing rules for COVID. Even if it's below your risk threshold, you may still have to work around some or work with some restrictions that change week to week.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. And in your specific situation where you booked through say like, an Airbnb-ish sort of platform? Or did you go with-
Summer Smith-Hull: I was booked through BRBO. And the owner was great. She gave the option of canceling. That's not true for everyone though. I have heard of some fringe cases where you made the booking, it's non-refundable, you have to comply with the local restrictions and they now say one family. So, like, sorry?
Ed Pizza: Tough noogies, yeah.
Summer Smith-Hull: I think that's the exception, not the rule, but it does happen. In our case, we worked with the owner and we decided to just push it out on a year, because I'm over canceling trips at this point. So, we just, literally, kept the same price, same everything and delayed it until 2022.
Ed Pizza: Okay. So, let's take a quick break to thank our sponsors this week. As you guys know, the Wyndham Earner cards have been our sponsor for the past few weeks. They released a new portfolio of credit cards in late 2020. The personal versions of the cards have some solid bonus categories for earnings on things like dining, gas, groceries. I have my eye on the Small Business Card to earn five points per dollar on really unique category utilities, something I spend a ton on as a small business owner.
Summer, you know the places people can use points to reduce costs on ski vacations, way better than me, especially because you get out West more often than I do. I found a bunch of Wyndham properties at some of the popular ski mountains, especially when I looked at Wyndham vacation rentals and some of the unique properties in the Trademark Collection. Any Wyndham properties located near ski destinations that catch your eye, that people might not be aware of?
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. There actually are several, which is a really cool thing. I mean, you've got some of your Wyndham Bridget properties that are kind of ski adjacent and towns like Dillon and Steamboat and such in Colorado. But if you wanted to go a little bit beyond that, they have this one spot in Aspen that I've had my eye on for years, looking for the right time to check it out. It's the Aspen Meadows Resort. You can use Wyndham points there. And it really does look like a resort. Even if you didn't go during the ski season, it looks like it could be a cool spot in the summer or fall too. And then, there's this one in Utah, that's super interesting called Zermatt. That's near-
Ed Pizza: Yeah.
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. It looks like it's themed after kind of a Swiss mountain chalet. I've never stayed there, but if you're in the themed type of ski hotels, it could be an interesting one. And then, there's Club Wyndham Park City, which doesn't have a theme or anything, but it looks like it could be a really great way if you wanted to use points and stay in that area, which has so many ski opportunities.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. And that first one you mentioned, Aspen, I remember reading an article that you had written recently and sort of learning more about Aspen because I've never been. That seems like one of the areas where it's fairly easy to get to the slopes from most of the major properties are in town. Is that right?
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. Aspen's interesting. So, if you've never been, you've probably heard of Aspen, but the actual Aspen mountain in town is not the one that most families are going to visit. You're probably going to end up at Snow Mass or Buttermilk. And they have great free included transportation or you could drive your car. But a lot of people will stay in one spot in this sort of like 20, 30 mile area, and then, hop around to other resorts, just depending on the day or what they want to do. So, we have stayed in Aspen and skied Snowmass. We've stayed in Snowmass and gone into Aspen. So, regardless of where you stay, there's a lot of different ski opportunities, all in a little Aspen bubble.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. And we'll link to some of your stories because there aren't just Wyndham properties at these places. Obviously, there's a Hyatt property that ski in, ski out in Park City. I think there's a Western in Snowmass, and there's some property [crosstalk 00:14:55]-
Summer Smith-Hull: Yes, we stayed there. It's definitely ski on. I think they're actually in the process of... I think it's sold and it's going to rebrand to a luxury collection or something in the future-
Ed Pizza: Interesting.
Summer Smith-Hull: ... but it's a pretty good deal on points right now, at least.
Ed Pizza: So, as we look at the horizon here of... We have a couple of months left in the ski season, especially in the places where skiing is a high priority. Out East, our ski season ends really early. But for the places out West and for people who are thinking that maybe conditions will be better in February or March to plan a ski trip, I'm curious what you see on the horizon. One of the things that you mentioned before we started recording was a ski mountain that closed entirely recently, which again, should have crossed my mind, but didn't. If you've got a trip planned and like all of a sudden, the place where you have lift tickets is just closed, that's kind of a bummer.
Summer Smith-Hull: It really is. Yeah. I recently wrote a story on how ski resorts are trying to save their season because they're facing a lot of headwinds on this, including that unfortunately, thus far, it's been a bad snow year, which brings all of its own problems, but it also means they can't open as much terrain to spread people out, and they can't use as many lifts. So, it brings a new level of urgency to the problem in a pandemic year but yeah.
So, when I was researching that, I learned that Hunter Mountain, which is in New York, had to close recently for about four days, I think, because of a COVID outbreak that they couldn't fully staff ski patrol, which is a problem. And if you are planning a trip to one of the larger resorts who has more of a ski patrol built out, and they rely less on volunteers as their backup, then hopefully that wouldn't happen. But if it did, it's going to present a real logistical challenge for you because this year ski trips are something you have to really plan in advance for most mountains. You have to make your advance ski reservation for the day, kind of like you do if you're going to Disney World these days.
Ed Pizza: Right.
Summer Smith-Hull: And you know, if you're going on a random Tuesday, that's not that hard, but if you're targeting like President's Weekend or something, then just switching that at the last minute, may not be feasible. And same thing with lessons. If you have kids that are in lessons, some mountains aren't offering group lessons at all. They're only offering private lessons. But even if they are offering group lessons, they're extremely limited and have to be booked well in advance. So, if your resort happened to close, it would be a big problem.
Fortunately, that's a one-off as far as I can tell, this hasn't been a systemic problem across the ski resort industry, but if you are targeting March or February still, and we are, we're still hopeful for a mid-March if case counts can get lower again. The name of the game really is advanced planning. You can't generally buy same-day lift tickets at a lot of the mountains. You're generally going to need a reservation, whether access the lifts or parking. Resorts are handling it differently. There are a few that aren't requiring that, but many are.
And then, like I mentioned, if you need any ancillary service or lessons, that's got to be booked well in advance. And then lunch, if the mountain offers indoor lunch and it may or may not, but you very well may need to make a dining reservation to go in and eat lunch, even at just the normal cafeterias, if you're at a Vail resort, for example, those reservations open at 7:00 AM that day, and just so be sure that you're on your phone and you snag it. If you want some time to sit indoors and eat your chili.
Ed Pizza: This feels a lot like Disney-
Summer Smith-Hull: It does, doesn't it?
Ed Pizza: Yeah. Like my 60-day FastPass window opens up and I got to grab stuff. And I understand, it's not an exact science, but how far ahead do you think somebody should be looking for a ski reservation at a popular mountain? Are they filling up the day before, or weeks before?
Summer Smith-Hull: It depends. So, Park City, for example, as we're recording this, it filled up some this weekend for MLK weekend. Others didn't. Like Beaver Creek, as far as I can tell, they still had reservations available same day, next day. So, it really just depends on the mountain. But I think that if you're wanting to go in March, which ends up being a spring break time for a lot of people, AKA Texans or if you're wanting to go in February and you're considering the long weekend for President's Weekend, those are specific timeframes that you really probably need to start planning now. But the downside is that not everything's going to end up being refundable if plans change.
Ed Pizza: Yeah.
Summer Smith-Hull: You've just really got to think it through. Personally, we're in for two grand on Epic passes this year for our family that we haven't used, but I knew that risk going in, and so I'm not mad about it. But it is just a thing you're really rolling the dice if you're unsure of your plans or restrictions could change out from under you. So, for us, if case counts can get back to where they were in say October, I think we'll go forward with our March trip. But if they stay how they were in December, January, then it probably won't be worth it, even with that investment we've made. So, skis a tough one. If you don't want to put that much money on the line in advance, you're probably better off looking at some of the smaller mountains, where tickets are cheaper in general, so you're not putting as much out there to lock something in.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. And you touched on something that I wanted to close with. We've never really skied enough to consider one of the larger passes, like Epic or Icon or something like that. I have family members have gotten a ton of value out of them. I know you guys have. Can they sustain this sort of a downturn in ski? I don't know how their models are, but do you expect that the pricing or the structure of those are going to be different in the future, like a really rough season?
Summer Smith-Hull: I don't think that those big ski passes will be different next year than this year. I think that some resorts, such as the resorts in Vermont, I've seen stats that resorts there are down 30 to 70%, depending on the resort, because of Vermont's restrictions, right?
Ed Pizza: Yeah.
Summer Smith-Hull: You just can't get in Vermont for a ski day.
Ed Pizza: Right.
Summer Smith-Hull: And New Mexico also still has a 14-day quarantine. I don't think there is aggressively enforcing it there. So, that's a whole different, interesting issue the ski resorts are facing. But Utah is totally open, so I think resorts in Utah are having a pretty decent year. Colorado has experienced changes, but I think on the whole, they're doing okay. They would love more snow, but they're doing okay. California though is shut down. So, like last year, we flew into Mammoth and skied there, and you can't do that this year.
So, it's very hit and miss based on the location and the State and the politics of the State. But I think as a whole, I think they did a really good job selling passes this year in terms of quantity and they did it early enough, honestly, before caseloads started going up again and restrictions started getting tighter. So, I think their pocketbooks are doing okay. What will be interesting to see is how they manage on the back end cases like mine. If we were 2K into Epic passes and we have to cancel our remaining ski trip, what will they do for us? On paper, there's nothing guaranteed for us.
Ed Pizza: Right.
Summer Smith-Hull: But that goodwill hand, they may or may not extend to people who put money down and then couldn't do it. That'll be interesting. I don't think that the pass structures will change as a result, but individual consumer behavior may.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. No. I'll be interested to see how they handle folks like you, who otherwise would have renewed if it hadn't been a weird year, but now, would you take that plunge? I would guess you probably won't take that plunge in March, but maybe as conditions improve over the summer, you might think about renewing.
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. And to be frank, we didn't in March this year, either we bought at one of the last days possible this fall. But you and I met at Disney in October and there's no way we would be doing that come December or January because the situation just changed around us. So, even waiting as long as we could to buy stuff still rapidly changed after that point. And that's the challenge for ski trips this year. Those who are planning at the last minute and can make all of the logistics line up, they may be in for a great day. And those who have to plan well in advance, it's a challenge.
The good news is that these points hotels that you can get on the mountains, they generally this year have a much more relaxed, cancellation policy than normal. A lot of times, ski in and ski out hotels have a 30 or 60 day cancellation rule. But this year, double check the fine print, but the ones that I'm booked at, at least through Hyatt have 24-hour cancellations, which is unheard of in the ski world-
Ed Pizza: That is huge. Yeah.
Summer Smith-Hull: So, I had no problem going ahead and locking up a bunch of Hyatt points because I can cancel those up until the day before. And so, that was great and consumer-friendly and if it doesn't work, we'll try again next year. But the ski passes, that's just a little bit of a harder issue.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. No, for sure. All right. Well, thanks for hanging out. I'm going to link to a bunch of the ski content that you have in the show notes. But until we get you back on again, tell folks where they can track it down.
Summer Smith-Hull: Yeah. So, you could find me writing and editing and et cetera all over at thepointsguy.com pretty much every day. If we want to hang on social, which right now I'm talking more about cooking and working out, traveling, over on Instagram, but I'm over there, I am @mommypoints and I am the same handle over on Twitter.
Ed Pizza: Awesome. Summer, thanks a bunch. And I do hope that you get in a little slope time before we talk again.
Summer Smith-Hull: I hope so too. Crossing fingers for March, but either way, we'll talk again soon.
Ed Pizza: Love it. All right guys, we will be right back to wrap up the show this week with the final two pennies.
Back to wrap up this week's show with the final two pennies. And man, I have fun when Summer's on the show with me. We're going to do it more, I promise. It's been almost a year since I've been on an airplane. March will mark a year. When the pandemic first set in, I told my wife I was going to cancel my April work trips and I would just stay home for like six weeks until everything blew over. Yeah, boy, did I miss that one. Our family definitely wanted to travel, but we just weren't going to take the extra risk of a flight somewhere. So, we improvised, we rented an RV a few times, before buying a pickup truck and an RV. And it wasn't like we went camping every weekend. Our family did one long trip to Disney and some shorter camping trips here and there, but we just didn't feel the need to go hog wild. And we weren't taking huge risks.
Even as we stored the trailer this winter, there just wasn't the thirst to book a bunch of future travel. I got plenty of friends who are traveling, but everyone in our family was just happy to wait it out. Things really flipped a switch this week. I wrote about on my blog. I totally didn't see this coming. We're sitting at dinner the other night, talking about our friend Randy's ranch in Colorado, a place our kids love to go. So, I asked our kids, sort off the cuff, if the pandemic was over today where they'd want to go. And it was hilarious, there was no hesitation. I mean, nobody took the time to think and my wife even jumped in with an answer. It was funny.
I heard Canada, Australia, Italy, all at once. For those keeping track at home, that's daughter, son, wife. Our daughter quickly changed Iceland, then back to Canada, then back to Iceland. Our son talked about how much he loved hanging out with kangaroos and koalas, but then he also noted how much he wants to visit Japan. My wife was cheering them both on, talking about why all those places would be great to visit. And it was just one of those talks where everybody was just energized about it. We were having fun talking about travel. It was pretty cool. And it was frankly an unexpected moment. We're not getting on a plane anytime soon and I'm really not even ready to book anything, given the uncertainty. But it's clear, we're starting to get our groove back.
Travel is such an integral part of our children's lives and it's been an integral part of my life for a long time. They can dream of far away places and then we can take them there or it can be as simple as our trip right after Christmas, to Williamsburg, Virginia. Our son is studying nearby Jamestown in school right now. And so, bringing his textbook to life in front of him, it's just so much fun to watch. Just the other day, while I was sitting in my office, my son came running in, he was on a break from class and he was super excited to tell me that his teacher was talking about volcanoes and he was able to share the story of climbing an active volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily a few years ago.
Look, we are so lucky to enjoy the adventures that we've had. Miles and points have been a huge part of that. We would not have been able to do what we've done for travel, if it wasn't for that. And it's why I love teaching you guys how to do the same for your family. It's a great segue to an episode that I'm planning with Summer and Richard Kerr, where we'll detail all the special trips you should be thinking about booking for a year from now. Look for that real soon, but they're going to be a bunch of things are coming up that you may have a great chance to either get them cheap or find award availability. And the things that we think that you should be focusing on if you're looking to cross some things off the metaphorical bucket list.
And as far as Summer's adventures go, I think her story is another reminder to make sure you're booking refundable, travel. Period. End of sentence. There are so many great affordable refundable options right now. Bottom line, if you can't get your money back, you should be thinking long and hard about whether you should book it yet.
That's my two cents. That's a full wrap on this week's show a big thanks again to Summer for joining me. I love having her on the show. If you have any questions, you can always email me, firstname.lastname@example.org and you can also find me on social media, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, all @pizzainmotion. You can also click on the orange tab on the website and leave us a voicemail and hear yourself on a future episode. A final reminder, you only have about a week left to enter our Wyndham rewards giveaway. 10 lucky listeners will win Wyndham rewards, diamond status for a year and 15,000 Wyndham rewards points. All the details to enter are in the show notes. And one final reminder, please, please, please leave us a review and a rating. It'll take you less than a minute. And it helps us out a whole bunch. I've got that segment with summer Richard coming up. I'm also trying to bring Clint Henderson back on the show to talk about his recent trip to Hawaii so you can understand vaccines and quarantine and testing and all that stuff.
Now I'm also working on a segment with a cruise expert to talk about the massive changes in that industry. We've got all that and more coming up. I will talk to you guys next week, until then we've got miles to go.
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