Colorado finalizes health guidance for ski areas this winter
DILLON — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has finalized its guidance for ski areas after releasing a draft plan last week.
The guidance outlines a process for working with local public health agencies and poses questions that ski areas must address. While local ski areas have released their own tentative plans for the season, they must be in compliance with the state guidance to be approved.
The approval process begins with ski areas working with county public health officials to develop a plan, which is already in progress in Summit County. Colorado Ski Country USA spokesperson Chris Linsmayer wrote in an email that members of the trade association, including Copper Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, have been engaging with local public health agencies for several weeks to develop appropriate winter plans.
Once plans are developed, ski areas must submit them to the local public health agency for approval. Once approved locally, public health officials will submit the plan to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for the final thumbs up.
Each ski area’s plan must address 17 categories of questions regarding implementation, communication and enforcement of health protocols.
For example, ski areas must outline how they will implement health screenings, how they will ensure mask-wearing and how they will communicate with public health officials, guests, and local leaders and business owners.
Specifically, the mask-wearing question asks how ski areas will “ensure masks or face coverings are worn to the maximum extent practicable in both indoor and outdoor public spaces, ski schools, and while riding chairlifts or gondolas.” Ski areas also are asked how they will ensure 6 feet of distance between groups on the mountain, in lift lines, in the base area and in parking lots as well as what steps they will take if they find that guests are congregating in an area.
While many ski areas have discussed generally how they’ll manage capacity, mask and physical-distancing policies for the upcoming ski season, the state health department is asking ski areas to get specific with guests before they arrive, including communicating mask-wearing and physical distancing expectations, how to use prevention tools like exposure notifications, quarantine requirements in case of exposure as well as information about the county’s current position on the state’s COVID-19 dial.
In addition, safety requirements should be “prominently displayed” on ski area websites and should be shared when reservations are booked and when visitors arrive at a ski area or resort lodging facility, according to the state.
Ski area leaders also must make plans to isolate visiting guests as needed and mitigate risk in employee housing facilities. And they must prepare to scale operations up or down depending on where the community sits on the COVID-19 dial.
In the finalized guidelines, the state also provided more specifics for slope operations, parking lots and ski school. Ski areas are asked to encourage remote purchasing of lift tickets, require masks in lines, put up signs to remind skiers of policies and keep gondola windows open. Ski area officials also are asked to consider the typical volume of visitors and determine what tactics might be needed to reduce the volume of people at the ski area, should that become necessary. To help reduce group contact, the state health department is asking ski areas to limit ski school groups to 10 or fewer students as well as to consider increasing base area drop-off options and then encouraging the driver to be the only member of the family to use resort transit after parking.
Linsmayer said Ski Country participated in discussions with the state and local public health agencies before the guidance was finalized and said he does not anticipate any major changes to ski area plans that already have been formed.
“The guidance speaks to items that ski areas have been addressing in their summer operations and have known would be a part of their winter plans,” Linsmayer wrote. “We’ve been sharing information and expertise on these topics since last spring, so nothing in the guidance has taken us by surprise.”
Vail Resorts, which owns Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort, released operating plan details in August. The plan outlines rules for masks, which will be required when loading and riding chairlifts and gondolas, anytime a person is indoors and during all lessons. The company has emphasized that no one is permitted on the mountain without a mask.
During the annual Ski Area COO Breakfast, Keystone General Manager Jody Churich said the majority of on-mountain restaurants will be open with limited capacity, spaced-out seating and cashless transactions. Ready-to-go hot and cold food options will be available at quick-serve restaurants, and packaged beer and wine will be available at most locations because bars will be closed.
Lesson participants will be required to undergo a self-health screening and lessons are capped at six people. Vail Resorts also has implemented an on-snow reservation system, something other major resort operators have avoided.
Breckenridge and Keystone spokesperson Nicole Stull wrote in an email that both resorts have submitted their plans to Summit County for approval.
“We support the state’s ski area guidelines and agree with the governor’s assessment that our industry must be out front in its approach to ensure a safe and successful ski and ride season in Colorado,” Stull wrote. “We plan to update our operating practices, including our approach to loading lifts, to align with the state’s guidelines, subject to local review and discussion.”
At Copper Mountain Resort, officials plan to implement a parking reservation system rather than an on-snow reservation system in an effort to manage the resort’s capacity. The resort released plans in September in an online letter, which included requiring masks while indoors, riding a bus, waiting in a lift line, loading and riding chairlifts and gondolas, entering resort facilities and outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Copper officials noted that opening day was pushed back to Nov. 30 in part so that guests can spread out over more open terrain.
As for lessons, Copper plans to start the season with only private lessons for related groups of up to six. On-mountain dining will be available, and the resort is expanding grab-and-go menu items. Staff members will undergo daily health screenings.
Over the past week, A-Basin has put out messaging on social media about changes at the ski area this season, highlighting mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand-washing and sanitizing. Officials also notified guests that lockers won’t be available and emphasized that the Beach will not be a party zone this season.
A-Basin passholders will not need a reservation to access the mountain, but Ikon Pass holders will. The ski area noted on its website that parking limitations could be used as a last resort to manage visitation on peak days. A-Basin’s on-mountain restaurants will be open at limited capacity, but bars will be closed and guests won’t be able to eat a brown-bag lunch indoors. Group lessons will be capped at six people.
At all ski areas, lift lines will be designed to allow for more spacing, and related groups can ride together on chairlifts or gondolas. Unrelated parties can ride on opposite sides of large-capacity lifts.
To read the full guidance released by the state, visit COVID19.Colorado.gov.
Local public health agency collaboration: How will the ski area collaborate with the local public health agency and communicate capacity and anticipated attendance?
Community engagement: How will the ski area obtain regular community feedback on what is working and what is not working? How will the ski area coordinate with community leaders, local businesses, and lodging and housing entities to identify possible gaps in outbreak prevention systems or where lines of responsibility are less clear?
Communication with guests: How will the ski area communicate state and local orders, guidelines and safety protocols to guests both while at the resort and, where possible, for guest planning ahead of arrival?
Physical distancing: How will the ski area ensure physical distancing of 6 feet between parties on the mountain, in lift lines, in the base area and in parking lots? What steps will the ski area take if they find that guests are congregating in base or other areas?
Gondola operations: How will the ski area configure gondola seating and operations to achieve adequate physical distancing?
Mask wearing: How will the ski area ensure masks or face coverings are worn to the maximum extent practicable in both indoor and outdoor public spaces, ski schools and while riding chairlifts or gondolas, recognizing exceptions for safety, dining or while actively engaged in skiing, riding or other distanced outdoor activities?
Crowd and resource management: How will the ski area manage crowd sizes (in staging areas, parking lots, base areas and other common areas) and ensure that limited resources (restaurant space, indoor space, etc.) aren’t places of gathering or congregation? How will the ski area ensure physical distancing in restrooms and locker rooms, accounting for ventilation and avoiding crowding in lines or waiting areas?
Health screenings and symptom tracking: How will the ski area approach health screenings for employees and guests, ensuring that employees and guests who are sick, exhibiting symptoms or have been recently exposed to COVID-19 are not allowed to participate?
Ski school policy: What adjustments will the ski area make to ski school and private or affiliated on-mountain operators (such as private instructors, adaptive or nonprofit programs or external teams/organizations) to ensure public health safety and prevent COVID-19 transmission to the greatest extent possible?
Enforcement: How will the ski area ensure compliance with state and local orders and guidelines, as well as area-specific policies, and enforce policies with guests and staff?
Employee housing: How does the ski area plan to ensure safe employee housing environments, mitigate risks between employee housing and work, quickly communicate with staff regarding updated directives and precautions, and ensure that employees that test positive can isolate effectively and safely?
Isolation housing: How will the ski area work with the local community in communitywide efforts to create opportunities for visiting guests to safely isolate and quarantine themselves in the event that they test positive or need to quarantine during their stay and cannot travel?
Apres ski: How does the ski area plan to coordinate with local partners on apres-ski gatherings and activities to ensure that distancing, masking and capacity requirements are maintained?
Extreme weather events: How does the ski area plan to coordinate with the local public health agency in case of an extreme weather event or emergency?
Continuous learning and scaling of operations: How will the ski area be prepared to scale operations up or down depending on epidemiological developments due to COVID-19 or where the host community is on the dial? How will the ski area learn from its initial opening and improve protocols based on experience?
Cancellation and postponement policies: How will the ski area address cancellation and postponement policies so that guests do not feel pressured to come if they are sick? How will the ski area communicate to guests that they should reschedule their vacation if they begin to experience any symptoms before traveling?
Unique on-mountain work environments: How will the ski area ensure adequate physical distancing in working environments that don’t directly fit the state guidance for office spaces, such as lift operation huts, ski patrol cabins and other indoor, on-slope structures?
Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
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