Update: On February 28, Vail Resorts lifted its indoor mask mandate for all of its Colorado resorts.
For the first time in three years, ski resorts across Colorado are forecasting a near-normal spring break with a massive influx of skiers and snowboarders expected to boost tourism economies.
Mask mandates are ending, COVID numbers are down, and advance ski area accommodation bookings are strong.
“Mars is surpassing 2019 levels,” said Catherine Ross, executive director of Winter Park & Fraser Chamber, “and 2019 was a banner year.”
When spring break arrived in March 2020, every day brought increasingly disturbing news about COVID-19, and Governor Jared Polis shut down the ski industry on March 14, effectively ending the ski season. over a month earlier. COVID continued to impact travel habits during spring break last year.
“That’s when the vaccine was still new – it was just being made available to most adults,” said Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. “It was another era. We still had capacity restrictions, more distancing, things spread out in restaurants. Now we are in a truly different place.
Summit County’s mask mandate has expired, though the county’s ski areas owned by Vail Resorts — Breckenridge and Keystone — still require masks indoors. The county’s other ski areas — Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin — do not.
Accommodation bookings tracked by the Breckenridge Visitor Center for March are 70% higher than March 2021, according to spokeswoman Lauren Swanson. Reservations are also strong at Purgatory Resort in southwestern Colorado.
“We have high footfall for March and accommodation is up, but it’s spread out over the whole month, compared to our busiest week of the season during the Christmas and New Year holidays,” said the marketing director of Purgatory, Amanda Anderson. “Like last year, we are seeing strong demand from ‘first-time’ visitors as people seek a different experience at mega-resorts. Customers traveling by air are the highest they have summer.
March bookings in Aspen track 2019 numbers, according to Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
“We are seeing a return to pre-pandemic visits,” Voss said. “The business community is pleased with visitation levels, but continues to face staffing challenges.”
The big quit, compounded by the lack of affordable resort accommodation, continues to cause staffing issues at ski resorts, even with the decline of COVID. Lawrence, one of Summit County’s three commissioners, asks visitors to temper their expectations.
“You’ll have crowds,” Lawrence said. “Tourism is busy and we are seeing tons of people continue to flock to the mountains, which we are grateful for, but our businesses will be short-staffed. People are going to have to expect to wait. Sometimes there will be frustration. It’s just about showing kindness and consideration to our frontline workers, who are really feeling the brunt of increased visitation and few colleagues to support them.
Summit County has a population of 30,000 that sees more than 100,000 visitors a day at peak times, Lawrence said.
“I urge everyone, we all need to have a little patience right now,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence also urges Front Range visitors to consider going car-free or carpooling when spring break visitors arrive.
“And, if they can, plan their trip midweek instead of weekends to ease the traffic on I-70,” Lawrence said. “Once they’re here, please take the bus or walk around town – avoid driving, avoid the hassle of parking. Take advantage of our free public transport system.
Masks are mandatory on the county’s transit system, per the federal mandate. However, this is starting to seem more normal for Colorado’s tourism-dependent economies. Or a new normal, at least.
“I don’t have the same level of worry as before,” Lawrence said. “Now it’s more, how are people enjoying this vacation or navigating their lives through COVID, whether you’re part of the workforce or coming to visit us? What is does this mean and how does it impact your daily life?”
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