Gov. Jared Polis extends statewide ski area closure through May 23, says there’s a chance ski areas could reopen for Memorial Day weekend
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that the executive order mandating the closure of state ski areas expires at the end of the day May 23.
DILLON — The day after extending the state-mandated closure of downhill ski areas through May 23, Gov. Jared Polis elaborated on the state’s approach to allow ski areas to reopen.
Polis said Friday afternoon that he had a call with “many” of the state’s ski areas a few days ago when the state “laid out the criteria” that would permit ski areas with enough snow to open in June or even as soon as Memorial Day weekend.
The governor added the ski areas will be getting additional guidance toward the end of May about whether that is possible. Ski areas across Colorado have been closed since mid-March in the state’s attempt to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“I think there’s no one in Colorado who doesn’t want it to be possible,” Polis said. “But we simply won’t know until there is more data.”
As for health considerations, Polis highlighted his primary concern is not about hygiene on-mountain, though he detailed his thoughts on that, as well. Rather, his primary concern is of people from across the state — and potentially outside the state — spreading COVID-19 in mountain communities like Summit County.
“It’s not so much the exposure on the slopes,” Polis said. “That’s a real thing. But if you keep related parties to a chairlift, that could be minimized. It’s really about whether our communities that are a host to the ski areas are really ready to receive visitors and tourism. And that’s up to them. That’s not up to me. We are going to honor that. If they are ready and the health situation allows it, we’re ready. But if they are not ready, we are going to do everything we can to make sure they will be there next year and be ready.”
Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said his main concerns with skiing and summer reopening of Summit County ski areas are the same as the governor’s. He said all four county ski areas — Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort — are communicating their input via two to three meetings a week with the county’s new community recovery committee and various subcommittees.
In the county’s new Roadmap to Recovery document released Friday, Summit County government classified ski areas as “high-risk recreation,” along with playgrounds, recreation centers, entertainment venues, theaters, gyms, fitness centers and studios, community centers, marinas and outfitters. Being classified as “high-risk” means the county mandates ski areas remain closed during the current Stabilization Stage 1 the county entered into Monday.
If and when the county was able to enter Stage 2, the Roadmap to Recovery document says ski areas could open “with strict physical distancing measures and precautions.” Vargo said the county hopes to enter Stage 2 in four to eight weeks, though that’s contingent on health milestones.
In an email Friday, A-Basin spokeswoman Katherine Fuller said the governor’s Thursday order “does not change anything” for the ski area. Situated at the Continental Divide, the ski area stays open through the Fourth of July some years, including last summer. Last week, A-Basin Chief Operating Officer Al Henceroth said the ski area is drafting plans on how to open safely, whenever that may be. In a blog post, he described A-Basin as a “marathon runner” and the situation as a “marathon.”
“We will continue our efforts to open as soon as it makes sense for our community,” Fuller wrote. “Because our season is scheduled to last until June 7, at least, we believe we still have time.”
Over at Breckenridge Ski Resort, spokeswoman Sara Lococo wrote in an email Friday afternoon that the Vail Resorts property has “not ruled out the possibility of opening for late-season skiing and riding,” contingent on public health guidelines and weather conditions.
In terms of possible precautions for skiers on-mountain, both Polis and Vargo said the governmental entities are considering the following measures:
- A cap on the number of skiers
- A cap on people on a chairlift
- Mandated face coverings
- “Tee times” to ski at certain times
- Distancing within lift lines
- Locals-only openings
Vargo also highlighted concerns about distancing at A-Basin’s popular Beach hangout spot near its main parking lot.
As for summer operations, Lococo said it’s become clear to Vail Resorts that restrictions on tourism and large gatherings will likely continue into June and potentially July, restricting Breckenridge and Keystone’s normal summer operations that historically begin in mid-June. She said Vail Resorts remains “hopeful” to reopen its mountain operations this summer but that it is too early to make a definitive announcement on opening dates and activities.
When asked about the return of ski area personnel to complete typical maintenance operations, Lococo said health is the corporation’s top priority and that Vail Resorts will only bring employees back on-site when it’s deemed safe and their work is permitted under local guidelines.
Copper Mountain Resort spokeswoman Taylor Prather said it is now targeting July 4 for its summer opening date, contingent on the health situation. Prather added Copper has brought back limited staff for critical on-mountain maintenance with staggered work schedules to maintain less than 50% of workers on-site at one time. Prather said each worker has to complete a daily health questionnaire that could result in a temperature check based on how they answer. She added that the resort has made arrangements for individual employees to have their own vehicles and snowcats to prevent sharing spaces.
Prather also said Woodward Copper is planning to launch its on-mountain Woodward Copper summer camps with new health protocols starting the week of July 5, four weeks later than originally planned.
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