With an uncertain season ahead, skiers and riders hit the slopes on opening day at Breckenridge Ski Resort
BRECKENRIDGE — Morgan Reilly of Broomfield told his boss he’d need to take Friday off. The reason? With the pandemic surging in Colorado, he is worried ski resorts will be closed down.
“I told my boss, ‘I need to get as many days as I can,’” Reilly said.
He wasn’t fast enough to make the cut for Keystone Resort’s opening day last week, so he didn’t mess around when reservations opened for Breckenridge Ski Resort’s opening day. He woke up at 5 a.m. to guarantee a reservation to ski for the first time since his March trip to Mammoth Mountain, California, was abruptly halted due to COVID-19.
“I almost cried I was so happy,” Reilly said. “Driving up through the mountains, (I was) thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to get to go to ski finally after waiting so long.”
With the Colorado SuperChair serving as the primary lift up the hill, skiers and riders from across the state — most everyone wearing facial coverings — made the trek to a somewhat busy Peak 8 base area to enjoy the season kickoff in Breckenridge.
Local Curt Nichols described skiing as “vital” to living a life in Breckenridge.
That’s why he said it’s been frustrating to hear conflicting messaging. On one hand, public officials are asking locals to stay home and reduce gathering sizes as COVID-19 cases spike in the county. Then there’s the reality of local ski areas drawing visitors to town.
But Nichols said he doesn’t know if there’s anything more government and the ski industry can be doing.
“I think their hands are tied in what they are legally allowed to do and things like that, and I think the resort and Vail Resorts is basically taking a stance of, ‘We will stay open as long as we are legally allowed to,’” Nichols said.
Nichols complimented the resort for “doing everything in their power to keep it open,” such as adding orange flags to promote physical distancing in lift lines, having lifties remind people on the gondola to wear facial coverings, shutting down the One Ski Hill Grill food court and spacing outdoor seating on the patio.
University of Colorado Boulder student Sarah Way said people were putting on their skis and boards without 6 feet of distance at times but that she didn’t feel at risk. She described the scene at the Peak 8 base as one with “a sense of community showing through.”
The social interaction meant a lot to the Fort Collins native, who said she was grateful to be on snow after her fall semester at CU Boulder, where law enforcement has been cracking down on gatherings of two or more people since early October.
“It’s definitely been a pretty isolating semester,” she said.
Vail Resorts spokesperson Sara Lococo said the company understands change is hard. When it comes to the reservation system, Lococo said she thinks it has run pretty smoothly aside from the system getting bogged down during last week’s launch for priority reservation days.
With limited terrain, Lococo said early season bookings will be more challenging to get. But with a storm forecast for the weekend, Lococo said the resort is working to open Peak 9, ideally in the next week.
As for being able to stay open amid the county and state’s rise in cases, Lococo said Vail Resorts officials think they were conservative enough with their safety protocols “to have something that can stay in place throughout the winter season and move with those changes.” She emphasized the outdoor, spaced-out nature of skiing and added that virus concerns were a major reason why Vail implemented the reservation system when it wasn’t mandated to do so.
Beyond that, she pointed to Vail Resorts Chief Operating Officer Rob Katz’ statement that if resorts get to a point in the season when a reservation system is no longer needed, it could be removed.
“It’s a lot easier to start with a reservation system than to put one in reactively,” Lococo said. “So it’s a proactive measure. It sets us up well for the season even as things ebb and flow with COVID-19 cases. So we felt it was the right thing for us to do to prioritize safety and for us to get open and stay open.”
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