ESTA Travel Blogs

05 Sep

Head Outdoors for Winter Fun in the USA

Dog Sledding in Alaska

ESTA VWP Travel: winter activities that offer space to roam

5 September 2020 – Setting their sights on winter travel, many ESTA authorized seek the winter holidays for sojourns across the pond. Although travel from many parts of Europe is still restricted to the United States for those traveling under the visa waiver program due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, there is optimism that the temporary restrictions will be lifted for many Europeans, including holidaymakers traveling under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), before the winter season. This means skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and other wonderful winter activities are on the horizon.
Keep in mind when planning a trip this winter to the US, that once the travel restrictions are lifted, a few additional precautions along with advanced reservations may be needed.

Try down-hill skiing and snowboarding be like in the US this winter

The United States is known worldwide for fantastic skiing and snowboarding and has many destinations to choose from. Some of the best places to hit the slopes are found in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, and Vermont. Fortunately, ski resort businesses, like Vail Resorts in Colorado, say they plan to keep all operations going and all slopes open to provide people with the full experience.

Hitting the slopes is a great way to be naturally socially distanced for safety and wellness. It is the pinch points like the lift lines, the lodge, and the entrances that require some modifications to keep people safe. Fortunately, the industry is being proactive and will have safety precautions already in place as the season begins. Expect safety protocols including social distancing, health screenings, and requirements to wear face covering or masks in more crowded areas. A common theme many resorts will adopt is an online reservation system to make sure these pinch points do not get too crowded. 
There may be new amenities to look forward to this year like snack shacks popping up on the mountain and streamlined check-ins.


Staying safe while hitting the ski slopes

A ski vacation may look a little different this year but can still be an epic trip. Savvy travelers will benefit from focusing more on the sport aspect and getting deeper into the skiing and snowboarding and focusing less on the social activities that take place around it. 

Enjoy a vacation filled with skiing or snowboarding and stay safest by following the recommendations below: 

  • Change ski boots in the parking lot instead of in potentially crowded lodges
  • Eat outside by ordering take-out
  • Keep goggles over eyes more often, especially when waiting in que
  • Maintain 2 meters distance from people not in your group
  • Take a lesson to skip the lift line, which may take longer than usual to allow for social distancing on the gondolas


Choose off-peak times for winter holiday

This safety tip deserves its own mention because there are multiple ways to choose off-peak times and not only does it increase safety, but also allows for more open space, better service, and shorter lines.
Consider the following for off-peak times:

  • Dine outside of traditional mealtimes
  • Plan your vacation outside of the busy holiday season, other US holidays, and school vacations
  • Choose to do activities that are more difficult for social distancing during the week rather than on the weekend
  • Fun winter activities in addition to down-hill skiing and snowboarding

For those who prefer other winter activities or are taking a break from the slopes, check out these fun winter activities.

Ice skating

Skating is a fun way to get experience the local sights and enjoy being outside in the crisp air. Opting for an outdoor rink over indoors is an added safety measure and usually has a better view. Plan to wear a face covering or mask. Famed Millennium Park in Chicago offers skating in the heart of the city every day of the week. Or check out beloved Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City, which first opened in 1936 and hosts regular special events nearby. Both rinks provide lessons upon request. 

Cross-country skiing

Downhill skiing and snowboarding may get most of the attention, but cross-country skiing is fabulous for being immersed in nature, getting a great workout, and is perfect for social distancing. Plan a trip to Trapp Family Lodge (made famous by its founders―the von Trapp family of Sound of Music film fame) near Stowe in Vermont and discover more than 60 miles of trails. Or check out Royal Gorge Cross Country Resort near gorgeous Lake Tahoe in California, where visitors also have the option to explore the trails by snowshoe. 

Dog sledding

In addition to the thrill of sledding through snow-covered forests and whizzing by a wintery landscape,  thrilling dog sledding trips offers travelers the opportunity to learn the history of this unique and ancient mode of transportation. Alaska is perhaps the most popular state try out dog sledding, or mushing, as it has existed there for centuries. The tradition continues today in the form of dog sled races. The biggest musher event is held in Anchorage every March, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Dog sledding tours for novices are also available throughout Alaska and promise memories that will be cherished forever.

Many winter resorts and venues offer multiple fun outside winter activities. There is something for everyone to enjoy this winter while staying safe. 

More uniquely winter activities:

  • Get cozy on a horse-drawn sleigh ride
  • Tube or toboggan down a snow-covered hill
  • Try ice fishing on a frozen lake
  • Discover snowmobiling through a frosty forest


Make winter reservations for ESTA approved travel to the United States sooner than later

Many businesses within the tourism industry, including resorts and hotels, will be operating this winter at a lower occupancy rate as mandated by their state laws to allow for social distancing. These businesses may reach this ‘full’ capacity much sooner than in years past. It is important when planning your trip to the United States this winter to make reservations sooner rather than later to make sure your spot is secured for a fabulous wintery vacation. 


Why wait! Apply for ESTA approval today

For eligible citizens from dozens of countries planning to visit the United States under the VWP this winter, you can read our comprehensive guide in our ESTA Learning Center. ESTA approval for USA Travel is fast and the visa waiver is valid for two years.