Two years on from first COVID-19 closures, Colorado ski areas hope things are finally returning to normal

Telluride Ski Resort
Courtesy Telluride Ski Resort
A skier heads down a run at Telluride Ski Resort.

Exactly two years ago, ski lifts sat empty and motionless all across Colorado. Upon Gov. Jared Polis’ orders, every single downhill ski resort was closed, on what normally would have been a busy spring break day. 

Most would stay closed the rest of the season as COVID-19 spread to all corners of the state.

At Telluride Ski Resort, disbelief over this unprecedented move hit the day before, on March 14, 2020, right after Polis’ decision. Vail Resorts had already announced it would close all its North American ski areas, but Telluride’s Patrick Latcham said his resort had expected to stay open, since its smaller crowds made for more opportunities for people to distance.

Then the governor made his announcement.

“I’ll never forget it,” said Latcham, now Telluride’s vice president of sales and marketing. He remembered turning to former CEO Bill Jensen, a 40-year veteran of the ski industry, and asking if he had ever seen anything like this. 

“And he kind of chuckled and was like, ‘No!’ And nodded his head, just shock and awe from this decision,” Latcham said. “And that's when it really hit me as to the severity of all this.”

It was still the early days of the pandemic. A few cases had been discovered in Colorado, mostly in resort areas, and the state had recorded its first COVID death only a few days before. Shortly after the ski-resort closure came a cascade of much bigger changes for Coloradans: a statewide lockdown, a mask mandate, that infamous run on toilet paper. 

It all went so fast, Latcham said. He kept thinking it couldn’t get any more extreme, any worse. “And then it kept doing just that.” 

Like most resorts in the state, Telluride would not reopen that winter. Months later, it did have a summer season of hiking and other activities, though it was delayed and operations were limited. The next winter, last winter, Latcham said COVID restrictions capped lodging capacity at 25-50 percent, which reduced the number of visitors. 

But this winter, things are starting to finally feel “more normal” again, he explained, with attendance starting to bounce back.

“I feel like for so long we were saying there's some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “And now I feel like that's real.” 

If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic journey ski resorts have been on, Latcham believes it’s a renewed desire that people have to reconnect with the outdoors. When Telluride finally did reopen for its summer season in 2020, he saw how eager guests were to finally socialize, instead of being cooped up.

“And I do really think that really helped people re-find their love of nature and being outside,” he said. 

Telluride’s winter season ends April 3 with its traditional pond skim, an event where skiers try to skim across water — and not fall in — as people cheer from the sidelines. It will be the first time the resort has held the event since 2019, before the pandemic found its way to Colorado.