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Snow on the slopes, virus still in the air, ski industry struggles with COVID-19 crisis

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April 13, 2020, 9:38 am

As snow continues to fall on vacant ski slopes in Colorado, the ripple effects of the deadly COVID-19 crisis are being felt around the ski world, from Australia to Austria.

Fresh snow piled up on empty ski runs and shuttered chairlifts over the normally busy Easter weekend in the Vail Valley. Beaver Creek was originally scheduled to close for the season on Easter Sunday but instead shut down after operations on March 14.

Vail was scheduled to close on Sunday, April 19, but was also forced to close March 15 after COVID-19 began to rage through surrounding Eagle County, which remains a hotspot for the novel coronavirus with 487 confirmed cases, 37 hospitalizations and five deaths as of Sunday.

On Sunday, April 12, Bloomberg reported that the chairman of Mexico’s stock exchange, Jaime Ruiz Sacristan, died in Mexico after three weeks of hospitalization due to coronavirus. He was on a private jet returning from a ski vacation in Vail that saw other infections, including a relative of billionaire and Vail property owner Carlos Slim — José Kuri Harfush.

In Australia, the opening of ski season in June, including for three Vail Resorts mountains – Perisher, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham – is very much up in the air due to safety concerns surrounding COVID-19.

“We’re serious about snow, and we know you are too, but we’re most serious about safety,” Perisher posted on its website. “And as we prepare for the 2020 winter season, we want to assure you that first and foremost we are committed to protecting the health and safety of our guests and employees.”

Vail Resorts last month reported an initial $200 million negative impact due to the premature closing of its winter resorts, and nationwide the ski industry is predicting up to $2 billion in losses depending on the duration of the coronavirus shutdown.

Melanie Mills of Colorado Ski Country USA called the loss of half of March and all of April a “body blow” to the state’s ski industry that could cost resorts up to 30% of their annual business.

In Austria, some ski resorts are facing the additional financial hurdles of litigation stemming from infected snow riders from Germany who claim the resorts in Austria did not shut down soon enough, thereby helping to spread the virus throughout Europe.

Colorado snow riders are still waiting to hear about possible refunds or discounts on season pass products for the 2019-20 ski season after the abrupt shutdown, with Vail Resorts officials saying they’ll have answers by the end of the month.

“We deeply value the loyalty you have placed with us by purchasing one of our pass products and we are committed to identifying an approach that acknowledges this past season and retains your loyalty for the future,” Vail Resorts’ Chief Marketing OfficerKirsten Lynch wrote in a letter to pass holders. “I ask for your continued patience and understanding as we remain focused on the real-time challenges that COVID-19 is currently presenting to our employees, our communities and our company. And with many different pass products, we want to ensure that any action takes into consideration all of our pass holders.

“We intend to reach back out to you with more information by the end of April. In the meantime, we are deferring all auto-renew charges and all spring deadlines for Buddy Tickets into May.”

Bloomberg Law on Monday reported on a potential class action lawsuit in California seeking restitution and possible punitive damages for “keeping customers’ fees after shutting down.” Vail Resorts did not provide comment to Bloomberg News.

There is concern the coronavirus will peak this summer but then flare up again in the fall in the Northern Hemisphere – the way the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 behaved.

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