As Ski Season Approaches, Public Health Officials Release Their Draft Rules For Resorts

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Gondolas on Lift One at Vail, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The lift was open for summer visitors, but has now closed as the ski area gets ready for winter.

The state health department released proposed guidelines for resort operators to prepare for the start of ski season later this month.

“Ski areas are a vital driver of the Colorado economy,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in an emailed statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, these areas also present unique challenges for controlling virus transmission. A successful ski season will require a strong partnership between ski areas, local governments, local businesses, and the state.”

Colorado ski areas started releasing plans for winter sports in August. Vail Resorts was among the first to publicize a roadmap for ski season during a pandemic, including requiring reservations at all 34 of its U.S. resorts.

Other resorts followed with various options for controlling crowds on the mountain, such as eliminating sales at ticket windows, offering different pass options and requiring parking reservations.

For example, Aspen/Snowmass added a weekday pass for Roaring Fork Valley residents in an attempt to cut down on weekend congestion. Jeff Hanle, a spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Company, said the state worked closely with local health authorities and resorts to develop the guidance. Aspen held off on finalizing operational details while talks with the state were ongoing, he said. 

“There are no big surprises in there,” Hanle said. “As operators, we’ve got our plans as ready to go as we can.”

Ski areas were an early hotspot for Colorado’s COVID-19 outbreak. The CDPHE is proposing a host of measures to prevent the same thing from happening this winter. The proposed rules include: encouraging mask use in all indoor and outdoor public spaces, and requiring them in line and when riding in chair lifts and gondolas; enforcing six feet of distance between unrelated parties on lines; and limiting the number of people from different parties on a lift together. Many ski resorts included such measures when announcing their plans.

Resorts must submit their plans to local public health agencies for approval, which will, in turn, submit them to the CDPHE for final sign off. Feedback on the CDPHE’s proposal is due Friday, Oct. 16 at 10 a.m.