Starting with Vail Resorts (Epic Pass) at 4 p.m. on Saturday and followed by first Alterra Mountain Company (Ikon Pass) at 6 p.m. and then Aspen Skiing Company at 7 p.m., the state’s ski industry one by one started shutting down Colorado ski areas temporarily or indefinitely beginning Sunday, March 15.
Then came the big blow at about 8:30 p.m. when Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order locking down all the state’s ski areas for at least one week in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak hitting the state and its high-country resort areas particularly hard.
Earlier in the day, Polis, whose family owns a home in Vail, had applauded the Vail Resorts’ move and urged others to follow suit but stopped short of ordering a shutdown:
“Colorado is strong, and we will get through this together,” Polis wrote a little after 4 p.m. “The safety and health of our most vulnerable and of our communities is our top priority. I commend Vail Resorts for taking this difficult, responsible step and urge other mountains and resorts to do the same. Coloradans and our business community must continue to rise to meet the demand of these challenging times and everyone must do their part in stopping the spread of this virus.”
But four hours later the governor issued this order:
“Never would I have believed that a global pandemic would force the temporary closure of our world-class ski resorts. I have been skiing since I was four years old. Our family has had a place in Vail for three decades. And, like so many Colorado families, we were planning a ski trip with our kids over their spring break next weekend. Beyond being a major part of our way of life, skiing supports our workers and businesses,” said Governor Polis. “For those of us who treasure living our lives outdoors, sacrificing our fun is the easier part; but for those who depend on employment in our Colorado high country, the uncertainty of how long they will be out of a job is terrifying. It is with a profound sense of pain and grim responsibility that I take the agonizing action that this moment demands. I take solace in knowing that while we will be temporarily closed for business, we will be saving the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Coloradans in the days and weeks ahead.”
COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease that has spread throughout many of Colorado’s communities including our mountain communities where premier ski resorts are located. Public health officials have concluded that disease control measures aimed at specific individuals or groups are no longer sufficient to contain the further spread of the virus.
“The challenges posed by COVID-19 are unique and place significant burdens on hospitals and medical personnel. We are aware of the great cost that mountain communities face if our downhill ski resorts close, even temporarily. These costs will be borne by local residents and businesses, and by the individuals and families who come to Colorado to enjoy our beautiful mountains and world-renowned skiing. But in the face of this pandemic emergency we cannot hesitate to protect public health and safety,” the executive order reads.
The executive order directs downhill ski resorts to suspend operations for one week to slow the spread of COVID-19 and conserve medical resources in the state’s mountain communities.
The governor went on to say his office will continue to monitor the course of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state and may amend his executive order accordingly.
Polis on Wednesday had strongly recommended that people over the age of 60 or with immune or respiratory system issues avoid the mountain hot spots around Vail and Aspen and throughout the high country, where health care facilities were already getting hit hard and could not handle a huge COVID-19 spike.
Backlash to Saturday’s shutdown was immediate, with former Florida state lawmaker and lieutenant governor Jeff Kottkamp at 6:30 p.m. tweeting: “Thank you for making this announcement as we are driving into Vail. Came all the way from Florida only to have our family’s vacation destroyed.”
Orlando’s Universal Studios, Disneyworld and other major Florida attractions shut down on Thursday last week.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail responded to Kottkamp on Twitter: “Hi Lt. Gov. I represent Vail in the CO Senate. That @vailmtn prioritized the health of our mountain community over profits is a public service. We should be commending not complaining. But keep thinking of yourself.”
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz acknowledged the inconvenience to guests in his 4 p.m. Saturday statement, writing:
“We sincerely apologize to guests who are currently at our resorts – and those who were planning to come during this time. We have information on cancellations, refunds and travel credits on our websites. Many things like ski school, lift tickets, equipment rentals, and transportation can be fully refunded, and we have new credit policies in place for our owned and operated lodging properties. Please know that we will get to everyone and appreciate your patience as our most immediate priority must be the health and welfare of our resorts and communities. I know there are a lot of questions about our season pass products and Epic Day Passes. Those products are non-refundable and not transferable to another season, however, we will be reviewing those policies and providing any updated guidance on that in the coming weeks. Again, we very much appreciate your patience with this as well.”