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As COVID-19 spreads, ski areas staying open … for now

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March 13, 2020, 12:01 pm

Gov. Jared Polis at a press conference Friday morning confirmed community spread of the COVID-19 virus in the Denver metro after confirming it in ski towns on Wednesday.

Gov. Jared Polis
Gov. Jared Polis

As of Friday morning, there are now 72 confirmed cases in Colorado, with three people in critical condition, and Polis said it’s only a matter of time before the state has its first fatality. On Friday afternoon, the state announced its first death, a woman in her 80s in El Paso County.

The state confirmed 23 more cases Friday based on overnight testing, with five more in Eagle County. That brings the county that includes Vail and Beaver Creek to 16 total cases — by far the most in the state. Fourteen are residents and two are out-of-state visitors.

Polis recently issued guidance for people over 60 or with previous immune or respiratory system issues to stay away from Colorado ski-town “hotspots.” Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties, which now account for 28 of the state’s 72 cases, are prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people.

At a press conference late Wednesday, citing an Australian woman visiting the Aspen area who apparently infected 10 of her countrymen before returning to Australia, Polis said ski-town health care facilities can’t handle a big spike in cases.

For the time being, ski areas are saying they will remain open for business, but that could change in the near future. But Polis on Wednesday said, “…This will get worse before it gets better.”

Here’s his extended statement Wednesday regarding ski-town hotspots:

“At this point we can confirm community spread in the high country of Colorado … it appears the virus will be disproportionally hitting our resort and mountain communities first and that doesn’t mean it will hit our resort and mountain communities exclusively but it means it will hit those communities first based on the numbers we’re seeing and of course we’re concerned with people traveling back and forth between population centers and those communities. We know that in particular these community health care systems in our mountain and resort communities have limited surge capacity. They’re also generally at higher altitudes. So I am advising our resort communities [to] provide guidance to travelers over 60 or with chronic health issues [they] should avoid unnecessary travel to the high country areas with the outbreaks, in particular because of the lack of health care capacity for hospitalization and ventilation in these areas as well as the identified hotspots of community spread.”

State Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon resident, said late Thursday the legislature is likely headed for an unprecedented mid-session recess. He’s also keeping an eye on the economic situation in Colorado’s high country.

“I can say that the legislature stands ready to tend to the immediate business of the state and will likely be responsive to any economic stimulus or emergency measures that could be taken at the state level,” Roberts said. “We are in close contact with the executive branch and given this is hitting our part of the state particularly hard, I and my colleagues will continue to look for ways for the state government to support our mountain communities during this challenging time.”

Vail Resorts on Thursday provided the following statement:

“As a global operator of 37 ski resorts, Vail Resorts is monitoring the rapidly evolving impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) from all angles. Unwaveringly and without question, our top priority is the health and wellbeing of our guests and employees. We are fortunate to have strong partnerships with the communities where we operate and we are closely monitoring the statements and following the guidance and recommendations from local, state/provincial and federal health agencies on cases of COVID-19.

“All of our resorts are open, and operating according to the most updated guidance and precautions from health officials, with attention to the cleanliness and environment of our facilities.

“We are aware that there are event restrictions in place across many states, provinces and counties where we operate. We are – and will continue to – follow all official guidance and cancel or postpone events as directed. Updates will be posted on resort and event websites.

“Please note, health officials advise that people at higher risk of severe illness, including those who are 60 years or older, should stay home and away from larger groups of people as much as possible.

“Guests with reservations at Vail Resorts owned and operated lodging properties – who are due to arrive prior to April 30 – can apply the dollar amount of their deposit to a future stay at the same property for up to 365 days from the date of arrival. Additionally, guests with reservations at these properties can rebook the same dates at another resort, based on availability and at the applicable rate. Cancellation and date change policies through third party lodging and booking partners will vary by property. Guests should reach out to their reserved lodging property or reserved booking source if they need to discuss changes.”

Aspen Skiing Company is staying open but allowing people to ride gondola cabins by themselves to avoid strangers, while opening secondary chairlifts so people can avoid the gondola altogether. Gondola cabins are also being sprayed with disinfectant.

“We’re taking this very seriously. We will remain open for business,” Aspen Skiing Company spokesman Jeff Hanle said Thursday after the state confirmed a 10th case there. “We’ve included the governor’s advice to at-risk populations – those 60 and over and those with compromised immune or respiratory systems that the state has advised not to come to the high country.”

Aspen is also removing tables from restaurants to all for social distancing.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

One Response to As COVID-19 spreads, ski areas staying open … for now

  1. Elizabeth Reply

    March 13, 2020 at 11:39 pm

    You should close them. Disneyland closed; it’s the right thing to do. It’s not good for the ski town communities. Everyone keeps coming up to ski because it’s open and it’s not stopping the spread of the virus. Not necessarily at the resorts, but in town at the grocery store, the drug store, the urgent care, gas station, restaurants.

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