Colorado’s ski resorts have started welcoming visitors back to the slopes, even though a surge in coronavirus transmission is forcing many businesses to scale back their operations.
It’s a pivotal moment for the industry. Most resorts saw huge losses after the season was cut short in March. Colorado closed most areas right before spring break — the second most profitable time for resorts other than Christmas.
Ahead of reopening, companies spent months designing new safety protocols. Many also rolled out new reservation systems to help limit crowd sizes, meaning the start of the season will look different this year.
When are resorts opening?
Most resorts have picked dates between now and mid-December. In many cases, reservations are limited to season pass holders until later next month.
At least four have already reopened: Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Loveland and Keystone.
Here’s a list, sourced from Colorado Ski Country USA:
Aspen Highlands: Dec. 12
Aspen Mountain: Nov. 26
Buttermilk: Dec. 12
Cooper: Dec. 9
Copper Mountain: Nov. 30
Echo Mountain: Nov. 27
Eldora: Nov. 23
Granby Ranch: Dec. 11
Howelsen Hill: Nov. 28
Kendall Mountain: Dec. 12
Powderhorn: Nov. 27
Purgatory: Nov. 21
Silverton: Dec. 26
Snowmass: Nov. 26
Steamboat: Dec. 1
Sunlight: Dec. 11
Telluride: Nov. 26
Vail: Nov. 20
Winter Park: TBD
How do reservations work?
It varies by resort, so it’s best to head directly to their website for specific information.
For Vail Resorts, which includes Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Crested Butte, only Epic Pass holders can ski for now. Starting Dec. 7, the general public can make reservations through the company’s website.
For Ikon Pass holders, reservations are currently required for some — but not all — Colorado resorts.
Is it safe?
In general, outdoor activities are less risky than indoor activities, according to the CDC.
This season, all resorts are required to comply with a new set of COVID-19 safety guidelines. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment released the lengthy list in October.
It includes obvious suggestions, like promoting mask-wearing and social distancing. It also encourages resorts to promote lift ticket sales by phone, cap class sizes for ski school and separate riders from different households on lifts.
Sara Lococo, a spokeswoman for Breckenridge Ski Resort, said employees are enforcing the company’s new policies.
“You’ll see us with masks. You’ll see us maintaining distance,” Lococo said. “I think being role models for each other is a big piece of this.”
The resort also designed its new protocols with a potential surge of coronavirus transmission in mind.
“We knew we’d still be dealing with COVID-19 throughout the winter season and that would include rises and declines in cases,” Lococo said. “I would also say pay attention to your local guidelines and what your public health department is saying for restrictions and orders in your area, as well as those guidelines in the area that you're coming to. I think that's super important to be educated on that.”
Many communities are moving under Colorado’s new “Level Red” coronavirus restrictions. What does that mean for skiing?
Ski areas will be allowed to stay open, but could soon face new capacity limits.
On Thursday, Nov. 19, Amy Wineland, Summit County’s public health director, said she was looking at limiting the number of skiers allowed on slopes. It’s unclear how strict the new measures could be.
Short-term lodging will also be restricted to members of the same household.
“This doesn’t mean that they’re all a part of a family coming from all across the nation,” Wineland said. “That isn’t the intention of this. It’s people who are currently living together before they travel to our state for lodging.”
Meanwhile, indoor dining and bar service will be closed. The base areas of most resorts will be a shell of their former selves for the time being to help encourage social distancing. Grocery stores and other retail shops in mountain communities are also trimming back their in-person capacities.
For more information on Colorado’s new Level Red restrictions, check out this post.
Who is skiing right now?
Not even a wave of coronavirus cases could keep Nick Jones away from the mountain.
The Breckenridge resident typically snowboards 100 days a year. On Nov. 13, Breck’s opening day, he was one of the first to make his way down the slopes.
“You honestly barely notice the difference,” Jones told KUNC. “They tell you to put your mask over your nose and space you out a little bit. But other than that, you’re still snowboarding and skiing so I can’t really complain.”
Crystal and K.C. Opara flew in from Texas for their honeymoon. The biggest concern, Crystal said, was some overcrowding in the resort’s public base area and bathroom lines.
“It’s kind of hard to keep your distance in this environment,” she said. “But it looks like everyone is wearing their masks. So, for the most part, it’s pretty cool.”
Pittsburgh resident Deandra Boronyak wasn’t wearing a mask. She said she felt comfortable not doing so outside.
“It still feels a little crowded, but people are spread out,” Boronyak said. “It’s great.”
Could ski areas close again if cases keep rising?
The short answer is yes. Under this spring’s stay-at-home order, resorts were forced to close. But Gov. Jared Polis and top public health officials have said this measure would be a “last resort” if COVID-19 cases continue to climb.