Pow panic in a pandemic: Lift lines, mask issues during busy weekend at Vail

Vail Resorts: Safe loading protocols creating slower lines

John LaConte
Vail Daily
The lift line for Gondola One extends down Bridge Street in Vail at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 6.
Photo by Gordon Flash

EAGLE — With demand for powder skiing pent up for half the season, Vail Mountain has experienced massive crowds over the past two weekends.

Vail Resorts spokesperson John Plack said guests with reservations started arriving almost 2 1/2 hours prior to opening on Saturday, Feb. 6.

“Even with safety protocols in place, powder panic doesn’t go away during a pandemic — and it was an amazing day to be on skis or a snowboard,” Plack wrote in an email. “It takes longer to load lifts since we are following all Colorado guidelines and safe-loading protocols, resulting in slower lines. We’re so thankful for everyone physically distancing and wearing face coverings.”

Hannah Sorensen with the town of Vail Parking Department said the Vail and Lionshead parking structures were full by 9:19 a.m. Saturday and that 529 cars were allowed to park for free along Vail’s South Frontage Road.

Two days earlier, on Feb. 4, the parking structures were full by 9:09 a.m., and 457 cars had spilled onto the Frontage Road. On both days, Vail Mountain had reported 13 inches of fresh snow over the previous 24 hours.

In snowy conditions, with foggy goggles, personal responsibility for face coverings becomes lax in lift lines, and enforcement is difficult, especially in more remote areas of the mountain. Plack said Vail Mountain workers have done their best to stay “unceasingly vigilant” in enforcing face coverings.

“Our staff is constantly monitoring and asking guests to cover their mouths and noses,” Plack said. “Our front-line staff is bearing the brunt of this burden, and we are so thankful for their hard work. The entire Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek staff, including our senior teams, are constantly on the mountain working to remind guests about our safety policies.”

The Vail Daily has received numerous reports of mask-related confrontations occurring in lift lines in recent weeks. And other crowd-related confrontations have occurred, as well.

In a letter to the Vail Daily, Peter Savoie said he witnessed a fist fight Saturday in the lift line to exit Blue Sky Basin at Chair 36.

“Shame on the aggressor for trying to cut approximately four minutes of his time in line, but to all who witnessed the ugly event, it was a reminder of the overcrowded conditions that exist on the mountain,” Savoie wrote.

Plack said the resort doesn’t take kindly to foul language, much less physical confrontations.

“There is absolutely no place for vulgarity or disrespect at our resorts, and guests should contact the resort ski patrol hotlines, staff members or supervisors, or mountain security if they feel they are being mistreated by others,” Plack said. “Ski patrol emergency and nonemergency numbers can easily be found on the EpicMix app.”

Inevitable crowds

Meteorologist Joel Gratz with said he has seen more and more crowding at ski resorts in the 15 years he has been covering weather in Colorado.

Gratz said crowding is inevitable as more information sharing occurs in the digital age — snow stake cameras, powder chasing blogs like his — along with the influx of the megapasses that give more people access to more resorts. The result is a large pool of people all heading to the ski area that has the most snow.

“There’s just more people out there with the knowledge that when it snows the skiing is really good, and they can go after it, for better or for worse,” Gratz told the Vail Daily.

“For better, it’s more people enjoying potentially the best day of their life on snow, which is awesome and what has always motivated me,” he added. “And for worse, it’s crowded, it’s harder to find fresh lines, and I think there’s just some inevitability around that as there’s more information sharing. And there’s really no more ski areas being created, so it just packs a lot of people into the same spot.”

Gratz also said those same spots, however, have proven to be resorts with access via a “megapass,” like the Epic Pass or the Ikon Pass, which allows you access to dozens of ski areas.

At Steamboat Resort over the weekend, skiers and riders took to social media to complain about massive lines.

“I’ve been skiing my whole life, and I’d never seen lines like Saturday,” Steamboat Springs resident Michael Landsberger told the the Steamboat Pilot & Today. “I felt kind of unsafe.”

“Just like information sharing, (megapasses) are good and bad,” Gratz said. “It’s phenomenal in most cases, because we can all ski a ton of places for a very reasonable amount of money, but of course it does make some places more crowded or give people the idea that they are not just limited to one mountain, and they are going elsewhere.”

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