The dawn of the 2020-2021 skiing season is near, at least in the Northern Hemisphere! Skiers are getting excited, but along with the excitement this season comes a tinge of the unknown. We don’t know exactly how our passes will work. We don’t know what area capacities will be. We don’t know if flying is a possibility or if we’ll have a place to stay when we get to our destination. And we don’t know where we’re going to boot up!

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COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on the upcoming season with social distancing, masks, and reduced or even no capacity in lodges, bars, and restaurants. Where many skiers booted up in the comfort of lodges and locker rooms (and I admit I have grown accustomed to the niceties of booting up in the lodge), that option may be a remnant of the past, at least for this season. There was always the allure of taking your time, sipping on a coffee or hot chocolate while slipping your tootsies into a relatively warm pair of boots. Even more, the ability to remove frozen, stiff boots at the end of the day while enjoying a fireplace and a hot toddy definitely had its perks. Well, lots of folks booted up in parking lots for many years, and it’s time to learn that again! Hopefully some of these tips and products may make it a bit easier.

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For most folks, a warm pair of boots is just easier to get into, not to mention more comfortable. Heated boots bags such as the Thermal Trekker by Kulkea (see review HERE) offer just that: warm, toasty boots. With the ability to plug into 120v house current or 12v in your vehicle, you can guarantee a warm shell -- or if plugged in longer, warm liners too. In the cold of a parking lot, it’s important to get those boots on quickly. Not struggling with stiff shells gets you there. The biggest drawback to heated bags is their size. Getting four, or even two or three, bags in a small car or small SUV can be a challenge. Like so much else in life, there are tradeoffs to consider.

Thermal-grocery-boot-bag-1.jpg If the heated bag is not your jam, there are other ways to keep those boots warm and ready. Of course there’s the tried and true “stick them in the footwell with the heater set on Death Valley” method, though if the car is crowded, there may not be enough room for everyone and their boots to share limited vents. If you have a short drive to the hill, you can always warm your boots overnight and put them in a thermal bag for the trip. Longer trips may require a cooler; coolers work both ways, and if your cooler is warm inside, it will stay that way for some time. However, like the Thermal Trekker bag, coolers can be bulky and awkward to fit in the car.

[USER=43]@4ster[/USER]'s nephew Askel
Though sometimes challenging, skiing with the kids can be rewarding. However, trying to get Junior outfitted in the parking lot can be a deal breaker. Can they wear the boots in the car? It’s way easier to boot the littles up at home if the ride isn’t far. The days of dropping the kids off with a bag of clothes, skis, boots, and poles and hoping the instructors will get them ready are most likely not happening this season. You’ll have to plan ahead to get the wee skiers ready to be on the snow, not in the lodge.

Now that we have a plan on where to boot up, how do we execute it? Parking lots can be slippery, dirty, muddy, and sometimes covered in snow (we like that problem!). An old piece of carpet or canvas can be a big help when swapping from sneakers or boots to ski boots and back again. Folding chairs are a must for those who need to sit to get the boots on. When the sky is falling, a flip up tailgate on the SUV makes for a good, but not necessarily great, cover. There are several companies that offer awning-type fixtures that can be set up over the back of the vehicle to provide shelter from the storm. Of course they require setup and takedown time, so it will be up to the individual skier to seek out what will work for their situation. Keep in mind that your parking lot situation may preclude such an extravagance. In a perfect world, a 4x4 van, pickup with a cabover, or small Class B RV would be a great option, but few people are going to go that route when the garage already has a capable car or truck.

Knowing that parking lots and ski boot soles don’t always make the best of companions, there are options for getting to the lift from the car without undue excitement. Cat Tracks and YakTrax have been around for years and not only provide good grip on slippery surfaces, but also have a slight rocker to make walking easier. They also minimize wear and tear of the soles on expensive boots. They fold up relatively small and will fit in most larger pockets. Many boots now offer the option of GripWalk soles. Not only are the toe and heel strikes replaceable, but the rounded shape allows for a much more normal, rolling walking gait. Some boots offer replaceable strikes that are flat but provide better grip than a solid lug sole.

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Once we’ve finally made it to the hill, there are some more challenges to consider. With no or limited food service, skiers will likely need to carry more food and water on their person. For strictly frontside, lift-served skiing, a small pack such as the Kulkea Micro Pack (see review HERE) fills the bill. Small and light, the pack has plenty of room for a sandwich, protein bars, and drink. There is also a pocket for additional goggles and room for your boot sole protectors. Keeping in mind that some ski areas don’t allow packs to be worn on the back while riding the lift, the Micro Pack is easy-on/easy-off. For those parents who have kids in ski lessons, it’ll be a really good idea to check with the ski school to learn their rules regarding food and eating.

Another challenge will be when nature calls. Luckily, from all information so far, restrooms will be available either in the lodges or with portables in the parking areas. Remember your mask and some sanitizer in case it's out at the lodge!

As we all struggle through the coming season with things so topsy-turvy, we will adapt. Consider it going back to our roots, but with the addition of heated bags, boots better for walking, and easy-to-carry food and drinks.