Vail bails, other ski resorts stay open while trying to prevent virus spread


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — As ski resorts across the United States grappled with how to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus without having to close, industry giant Vail Resorts decided Saturday it would shutter all of its North American resorts for at least one week.

After earlier in the day announcing their resorts would remain open with some added measures to prevent the spread of the virus, Vail Resorts changed course and said it would shut them down starting Sunday through March 22 before reassessing, according to the company’s news release.

The company’s ski areas include Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado; Park City Mountain Resort in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Stowe Mountain in Vermont; and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada.

“This decision provides a pause for the entire ecosystem of our mountain resort communities,” company CEO Rob Katz said in the online post. “It gives everyone the time to assess the situation, respond to ever-changing developments, and evaluate the approach for the rest of season, if we believe it is advisable or feasible to re-open.

Vail joined a few other small resorts that had already made the decision to close, including Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, Jay Peak Resort in Vermont and Shanty Creek Resort in Michigan.

Other resorts that remain open are closing enclosed gondolas or aerial trams while others are encouraging skiers to ride lifts with only people they know as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Nearly every resort is promising extra cleanings of public spaces, more hand sanitizer stations and vowing to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A few resorts, including

Still, some ski resorts are touting the popular winter activity as a relatively safe option for diversion as concerts, sporting events and museums close.

“Skiers are pretty well covered from head-to-toe and being outdoors, the contamination factor is minimized,” said Tom Watkinson, spokesman for Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado.

Snowbird resort in Utah said it will close its aerial tram but stay open. It explained in an online post that skiing is “beneficial for the soul to live and enjoy the adventure lifestyle-and this is particularly the case in times like this, when anxiety and stress are high.”

Avid back-country skier Michele Dauber strongly believes that resorts should be shut down to contain the spread of the virus.

“This is why Disneyland closed. This is why cruises don’t make sense. A ski resort is just a cruise ship in the snow,” said Dauber, who has a house in the Bear Valley area in California and is a professor at Stanford University. “People are just constantly wiping their noses and they’re wearing gloves so hand sanitizer isn’t the issue.”

In Washington – the hardest hit state in the United States – the Crystal Mountain ski resort southeast of Seattle remained open with all lifts except a gondola operating. But the resort has closed restaurants and indoor seating, encouraging people to bring their own lunch and eat outside or in their cars.

A bartender in the Utah ski town of Park City tested positive for coronavirus, Utah state health officials said Saturday. A county health official said he would not recommend shutting down the nearby resorts, but cautioned against traveling to the area. One of Colorado’s first cases was a man in his 30s visiting Colorado on a ski vacation.

The coronavirus, deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization, infected more than 150,000 people and killed over 5,700. The disease for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority recover.

Park City Mountain Resort, which is owned by Vail Resorts, is encouraging skiers and snowboarders to ride gondolas and chairlifts with only the people they are skiing with. The company said it will post signs with social distancing reminders at its resorts, which include Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Stowe Mountain in Vermont; and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada.

Jackson Hole in Wyoming closed its aerial tram and limited the number of people in gondolas. Mammoth in California said it planned to keep its gondolas half full and get rid of some chairs and tables in lodges to keep guests a safe distance apart. Powder Mountain in Utah ceased snowcat skiing because of tight quarters inside the vehicles.

Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort near Lake Placid in New York has closed its gondola and is limiting how many people are on lifts. The resort is also allowing only half the amount of people normally allowed at indoor facilities.

Most resorts stay open each year until mid-April or longer depending on conditions.

It remained unclear if the virus outbreak would decrease visitation to the resorts, but Vail Resorts said this week in a company report that visits were modestly below expectations.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard organization said Thursday all upcoming competitions in the United States had been canceled.

Resorts social media accounts were a mix of news about measures being taken to address the coronavirus and happy pictures and videos of skiers carving through fresh snow.

Powder Mountain in Utah posted a picture of a small group of skiers in lift line surrounded by pristine snow-capped trees and mountains around him with the caption: “Good morning and happy Saturday from Powder Mountain! Get outside and take advantage of the remaining winter days.”

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