Colorado Ski Resorts Prepare For A Snowy President’s Day Weekend Amid A String Of Coronavirus Outbreaks

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Keystone Resort has opened for the winter, with face mask and keep social distancing rules in place during the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020.

Updated Feb. 11 @ 8:12 a.m.

Resort areas are expecting more snow heading into the President’s Day holiday, which likely means another mad rush for the slopes — and another test of operators’ COVID-19 strategies.

Snow-starved skiers and snowboarders swarmed following the season’s first major dump of fresh snow last weekend, leading to lift lines that were hours long. 

Resorts are walking a fine line between keeping people safe and satisfying customers, many of whom paid hundreds of dollars for season passes.

Photos of the lift lines at Steamboat last weekend went viral. Long lines are inevitable when pent-up demand, big snowstorms and COVID-19 mitigation strategies collide on a weekend, said Loryn Duke, a spokesperson for Steamboat. 

It’s important for guests to do their part to keep things running smoothly and safely, she said.

“We need everyone to help follow the protocols to make them successful- including monitoring their own physical distancing,” Duke said in an emailed statement.

Most resorts have implemented some kind of reservation system to limit crowds, but none has disclosed how many people are allowed on the mountain on any given day, making it difficult to gauge how well those systems work. 

Steamboat is somewhat of an outlier in that it doesn’t require reservations for Ikon passholders, though advance purchase of lift tickets is required. The resort is sold out for Feb. 12-15 and Feb. 19 and 20.

“We have not ruled out reservations, but we want to explore other capacity limitation measures first,” Duke said.

Despite the challenges, Coloradans seem intent on heading to the mountains. It took Tina Sroka and her family five hours to drive from Denver to Leadville on the way to Ski Cooper last weekend, a trip that typically takes three hours. But that won’t deter her from going again.

In fact, the family is skiing more than ever this year with the pandemic shutting off other avenues of recreation.

“We’re so limited with what we can do right now, so me and my husband have committed to going every weekend,” Sroka said.

As the ski season gets into full swing, a steady stream of relatively small outbreaks among resort staff that started in November continues. There are currently 11 active outbreaks at ski resorts, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

On Monday, Winter Park and the Grand County Public Health Department jointly announced an outbreak among the resort’s employees. According to state data, there are 109 total staff cases.

“This declaration allows more state resources to be pulled in to aid with suppressing COVID activity in the [Winter Park] employee group,” the statement read. “WPR, GCPH and CDPHE will continue to monitor the outbreak until two incubation periods (28 days) have passed with no new outbreak-related COVID-19 positive cases.”

The cases were traced back to social gatherings outside the workplace, and aren’t linked to interactions with visitors, according to the statement. The resort has strict employee quarantine and isolation procedures, said spokesperson Jen Miller, and a zero-tolerance policy for employees who violate those orders. 

“We continue to operate the mountain normally, requiring masks and social distancing and encouraging guests to embrace more time outside,” Miller said in an emailed statement.