Will Colorado’s ski resorts stay open through the season? It seems unlikely, if they don’t step up COVID precautions

Will Colorado’s ski resorts stay open through the season? It seems unlikely, if they don’t step up COVID precautions

It may be another very short season, unless things change ASAP

VicesDecember 01, 2020 By Will Brendza

I was going to wait until later in the ski season, when the snow really started falling, until I knew for sure whether or not the resorts were going to stay open for most of the season, before I went up on the hill. Vail had made it clear: If passholders don’t use their pass and Governor Polis shuts them down again, people would get a full refund. However, if someone were to ski even one day, that possibility was forfeited.

It was a risk, and an unnecessary one at that — early season skiing is rarely anything to write home about.

But I couldn’t help myself. The ski dreams were coming more and more frequently, they were getting more vivid every night — even lucid. I was craving real turns on real snow. Even if it was just on a ribbon of death. Even if it meant sacrificing the possibility of a full refund from Vail.

Besides, I was curious how things were going to look after this bizarre year. Were mountain operations going to be much different with COVID regulations in place? How careful was the resort going to be in order to preserve their chances of staying open?

The answers to those questions surprised me — and not in a good way. They made me nervous for this season and its prospects of continuing uninterrupted. Even though Governor polis agreed to let resorts continue running their lifts as their counties switch to level red, or “severe risk” for COVID-19. Even though people are often bundled up when they ski and they’re outside where there’s ample room for dispersion and social distance.

Even despite all that, the scene at Beaver Creek did not instill confidence in my hopes for this season. Especially with COVID infection rates and hospitalization numbers spiking all over the state and the nation.

Sure, Beaver Creek's lift lines were all extended to accommodate social distance; however, people were still cramming up to the front, naturally crowding at the lift-line bottleneck. Guests were required to wear masks everywhere unless seated with their group; however, not everyone was wearing masks properly or even at all. And while they did move most of their on-mountain dining outside, they also built massive glass and aluminum “outdoor” structures so people could remain comfortably sheltered by four walls and a roof while eating out there.

For every precaution being visibly exercised, there was either a loophole in place to counteract it, or some dumbass defying it outright without challange.

Now, to clarify, the lack of safety didn’t bother me because I was worried about catching the Rona (I wouldn’t have been up there if I was afraid of that). Rather, the lack of COVID safety regulations upset me because I know that this ship won’t sail far if things keep up this way — and goddamnit I want to ski! If the resorts don’t up their game and enforce their COVID rules and regulations, it’s only a matter of time before they get deemed a “health hazard” and are forced to close down. Again. And who knows? That could last all season, straight through to summer.

God help us all if Colorado’s skiers and boarders miss out on another ski season. That’s when powder junkies and snow addicts get into trouble: when they’ll start skiing out of bounds, alpine touring without the proper education or safety equipment, venturing into dangerous territory where they’re unfamiliar and vulnerable; where there are no ski patrol or paramedics on call.  

A lot of search and rescue teams are already anticipating that this year will be a busy one for them. Since March (when COVID shut resorts down) backcountry gear sales have skyrocketed — most outfitters are running out of AT bindings, split-boards, beacons and other essential pieces of gear. Almost every avalanche safety course in the state is booked out and at capacity.

If resorts close again, there won’t be a release valve for backcountry traffic and skiers and boarders will pour out of bounds into the Danger Zone in unprecedented numbers. With such a voluminous increase in backcountry access, accidents will increase too, and there will be far more potential victims for deadly avalanches to bury. People will die.

So then, it’s literally a matter of life and death for these resorts to maintain operations. If they get closed down, it will create a potential bloodbath in the backcountry.

And, more than the injuries and deaths that it’s sure to result in, the prospect of resorts closing down for the entire season means certain death for many small businesses that rely on ski season for their income. Restaurants, bars and locally owned shops will die off in droves, killing jobs throughout ski country, jacking up unemployment rates and forcing entire communities of locals into very tight spots.

The ski resorts need to try harder — they need to step up their COVID precaution game. If not to actually prevent infections, then to at least save their communities the grief of going economically belly up, and to save lives that might otherwise be lost out of bounds.

However, if things keep up the way they were going on Saturday, it’s not a matter of if ski resorts get the axe this season, but when.