2022 could mark first ‘normal’ spring break since the pandemic began

Cars fill the parking lot at Breckenridge Ski Resort on Wednesday, February 9, 2022. In Breckenridge, visitor count for spring break has gone up considerably in 2022 already when compared to the past three years.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

Over the next few weeks, skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts from across the United States will travel to Summit County to celebrate what is the closest to pre-pandemic normal the ski industry has seen since 2019.

In Breckenridge, visitor count for spring break has gone up considerably in 2022 already when compared to the past three years.

“According to the most recent occupancy report (Feb. 15, 2022), March nights on the books exceed 2021 by 34% and surpass 2019 by 13%, with visitation peaking the week of March 12-19,” Breckenridge Tourism Office spokesperson Lauren Swanson said. “We are anticipating a lively spring break in Breckenridge and recommend that residents plan for increased congestion by using public transportation, anticipating traffic and practicing patience.”

Consistently, spring break weekends bring in the heaviest traffic of the winter season, according to information from the Colorado Department of Transportation. All but one of the top-10 three-day winter weekends for traveling were in March. Each of those weekends had totals of over 135,000 people driving through Eisenhower Tunnel throughout the holiday. The highest ever — March 18-20, 2016 — had almost 150,000 people.

To avoid the rush, it is recommended that travelers who are looking to avoid morning traffic jams be on the road on or before 6:30 a.m., according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Evening peak traffic happens at around 4-6 p.m. for eastbound traffic. By 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., most of that traffic subsides.

Choosing to visit ski areas midweek is also an option to avoid large crowds that typically form on the weekends. When it comes to parking, arriving before 8 a.m. is a traveler’s best bet to secure a spot. The early-bird crowd begins to thin around 1 p.m., which could open spots, as well.

Swanson added that while spring break is a busy time, its visitor count is still similar to what is commonly seen during other winter holidays.

“Breckenridge experiences comparative occupancy levels during spring break, the December holiday season and Presidents Day weekend,” she said.

During the last surge of holiday travelers — including the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Day — the omicron variant of COVID-19 surged along with them. The surge prompted Summit County to reinstate a mask mandate on Dec. 30. That surge put a strain on the local workforce, in and out of the ski industry. Breckenridge town staff moved back to remote work once it saw a significant rise in cases after Christmas and that some town staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. The mask mandate later ended once cases were under control.

Last week, Vail Resorts ended their indoor mask requirements for guests, meaning that those visiting Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort will not have to wear masks anymore. Other ski areas in the county already lifted their mandates for guests.

According to the latest available data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Summit County’s one-week positivity rate is at .08, a vast difference compared to the positivity rate on Jan. 17, which was .31. This means that approximately 8% of COVID tests today are coming back positive, compared to 31% in January.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jared Polis announced a new stage of COVID-19 recovery, in which he encourages fully vaccinated Coloradans to “live without fear.”

“As we mark the two-year anniversary of COVID arriving in Colorado, I am proud of our state being in a place where we can turn the page and finally return to normal pre-pandemic life,” Polis said after the announcement on Thursday, March 3. “In March of 2020, the world knew very little about this virus, but we’ve spent the last two years building an aggressive emergency response to this novel virus that balanced the mission of saving as many lives as possible while also taking care of our social, mental and economic health. We will remember and honor those who we lost.”

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