Chris LeBlanc skis a run at Copper Mountain in February 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo
The Great Texas Snowpocalypse may have dampened your enthusiasm for a ski trip this season, but just in case, I’m here with an update from my contacts in Colorado.
Ski lifts are still whisking folks up the slopes and skiers are still schussing happily down them, albeit in smaller numbers this year, according to Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director of Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents 22 ski areas in Colorado.
“Largely the season is going well, but business is down due to Covid,” Linsmayer said. “Visitors are grateful to come out and experience some normalcy.”
The good news? Snow sports are, by their nature, less risky than other endeavors during a pandemic. “You’re outside and you have skis or a board on your feet, so it’s naturally socially distant,” Linsmayer said.
The bad news? Outbreaks have been reported at some area ski resorts. Those cases, including a rash of more than 100 reported among employees at Winter Park last week, have been traced to workers who live and socialize together. So far there have been no reports of employees transferring the virus to visitors.
If you do decide to make a trip, keep a few things in mind. Ski Country is still pushing it’s “Know before you go” message, encouraging visitors to check the Colorado Ski Country website at www.coloradoski.com or go to the individual website of the resort they plan to visit for Covid tips and advice.
Most resorts are requiring pre-purchase of lift tickets, and some require pre-purchase of parking.
Resorts are encouraging visitors to eat meals outdoors, on picnic tables or benches. This group enjoys a meal next to the parking lot at Arapaho Basin in February 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo
Dining restrictions vary by county, but some have increased occupancy rates at sit-down restaurants to 50 percent. (Others, like Telluride, are at 25 percent capacity.) Many resorts offer grab-and-go meals on the mountain, and some offer creative solutions, like gondola cars or yurts that serve as dining pods, or tents that allow breezes to flow through.
Under state regulations, masks must be worn – over your nose and mouth – in public spaces, including lift lines. And a single Buff or bandana won’t cut it. Either use a regular face mask or double down on those thin neck gaiters.
“Our state regulations allow you to take off masks while skiing, but you must put them on while in line,” Linsmayer said.
Here are a few more specific updates …
Patrick O’Sullivan skis a run at Arapaho Basin. Pam LeBlanc photo
Aspen-Snowmass, which incorporates four ski resorts (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk), has a sense of humor – they’re pushing a “Fine Dining on the Lift” theme, encouraging folks to pick up individually wrapped and easily transported food items like sandwiches and salads in containers that are easy to eat from. That way you can eat them outside, on benches, inside heated tents, or while the lift whisks you up the mountain for that next run.
“It’s kind of feeling like we’re a little bit back to normal,” said Xanthe Demas, communications manager at the area.
A new six-person lift is turning at Snowmass, and both Aspen and Snowmass have added snowmaking operations.
Copper Mountain, where I skied last February, just started offering six-person group lessons, instead of limiting them to privates. They’ve also added guided uphill tours and expanded uphill routes (a terrific workout best done at dawn!) to the menu, and during the month of February are donating $5 of every lift ticket purchased on Wednesday to a non-profit organization as part of the Play it Forward Wednesday movement, said communications manager Taylor Prather.
I made it to Monarch Mountain last winter too, where marketing director Dan Bender says the resort is enjoying a winter storm cycle (probably more than Austin is enjoying its winter storm cycle.)
“Still, it has been a challenging year,” Bender said.
The mountain has added a food truck that peddle burritos at the base area, and another that serves grab-and-go food at mid-mountain. The trucks will be incorporated permanently, he said. Lodges are instituting social distancing guidelines.