Skiers and riders talk about mental health value of return to snow as season kicks off at Keystone Resort
KEYSTONE — Friday was the day Bryan Lee had been anticipating for more than seven months.
He’d been waiting ever since he was laid off by Vail Resorts in March when the company was forced to close its ski resorts as the novel coronavirus pandemic changed the world.
In March, Lee was living in Vail Resorts employee housing while working for Keystone Resort’s Ski & Ride School. After he lost his job, he moved to Arvada, where he is living now and working for a leasing company.
Lee would love to work at a mountain resort this winter, but the security of the job in Arvada keeps him on the Front Range for now as he tries to bounce back from a rough seven months.
It’s a struggle he knows many people in ski towns are familiar with.
“Living in a small mountain town, it’s rough,” Lee said. “Depression will hit you. Right now, I’m just kind of hesitant. I don’t want to have that fall into depression from getting laid off again, you know? That was devastating. Never in my life did I think I would get laid off.”
On Thursday, Lee was one of the lucky ones who, in the span of just a few hours, reserved a spot for Keystone this weekend. Those who made the cut were able to ski and ride more than 3 miles of trails from the top to bottom of Dercum Mountain. Despite the limited 60-acre terrain, the lines to board the River Run Gondola, Summit Express and Montezuma Express lifts were not long. And, although the volume of skiers and riders on the one long run of mainly man-made snow felt similar to a normal day at the resort, most everyone in attendance abided by the rules of wearing masks and facial coverings in Keystone’s River Run Gondola base area.
Because of a spike in coronavirus case numbers in Colorado, Keystone’s indoor facilities were limited, with only bathrooms in the base area as well as bathrooms and food and beverage service at the top of Dercum Mountain. Keystone spokesperson Loryn Roberson said the resort used the Time to Dine application for the first time Friday. The application helps the resort manage crowds at indoor dining facilities by having guests scan a QR code to reserve a space.
With limited terrain comes limited resort capacity, but Roberson pointed to the upcoming opening of the Mountain House Base Area as a variable that would help the resort increase the number of people who can ski and ride on a given day.
Lee and his friend Camelle Webb of Denver described Keystone’s COVID-19 enforcement in the somewhat-crowded River Run Gondola area as “strict,” with resort officials using a megaphone to remind those waiting in line to keep their distance from others and wear a mask covering their nose and mouth.
Roberson said guest compliance with the resort’s rules had gone well in the base area.
“This is not new,” Roberson said. “This is something we’ve all been doing for six months. Wearing a mask and giving space is what we are all used to.”
Logan Dineen of Falcon agreed with the sentiment from Lee and Webb, that skiing can be done safely despite the virus thanks to its distanced nature outdoors.
“I felt completely good coming out here,” Dineen said. “I felt safe.”
Michael Ray of Colorado Springs said he thinks the natural sunlight that comes with skiing outdoors makes the experience safe despite the virus. He also said he thinks being back on snow makes people happier.
“It’s soothing,” he said. “I find it very relaxing, being out here. Especially with — I’m in college — it gets my mind off school. And with everything going on in the world right now, it’s great being out here.”
Many ski town residents have echoed those thoughts.
When speaking last week about his new short ski film “Eternal,” seven-time X Games gold medalist and Freeride World Tour competitor Tanner Hall said returning to skiing is critical for the mental health of ski town people.
“Skiing is a good thing,” Hall said. “It’s good to be outside. There’s no reason you can’t do two people to a chairlift on a six-pack or quad. … Keep the skiing going so we can have our immune systems stay healthy through endorphins through skiing. And just by going skiing, you’re making yourself healthy, and you’re making your brain realize, ‘Wow, I just had a great day social distancing on the hill.’”
Those words resonated with Lee, who said ski town people need something to look forward to.
“I feel at home,” Lee said.
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