COVID surge limiting some Colorado ski resort operations, terrain deals

Palsy snowfall early in the season, followed by staffing challenges posed by the omicron COVID-19 surge, limited the amount of terrain some ski resorts were able to open, resort officials acknowledge.

Many resorts have caught up quickly with snowfall since a series of storms began Christmas week, which has helped, but rising COVID-19 numbers continue to cause staffing issues so even as fresh snow piles up and more storms target the state.

Vail Mountain only had 62% of its skiable terrain open Monday. This figure has since risen to 69% and the mountain teams are working on opening Blue Sky Basin. Beth Howard, COO of Vail Mountain, updated skiers and snowboarders with a recent letter to “the Vail Mountain community,” outlining the challenges its crews have faced.

“Although we’ve had little natural snowfall and a warm start to the season, we’ve enjoyed plenty of powder days recently and the mountain is filling out nicely,” Howard wrote. “We faced very difficult challenges. The biggest dynamic we are facing right now is COVID-19. This is why Pride Express (an elevator to Eagles Nest on the west side of the mountain) is not operating, why some of our retail stores are closed, and why some of our restaurant operations have been reduced.

Howard noted that Vail employees must be vaccinated, adding that they are asked to stay home if they are sick.

“In my 37 years in the industry, this has been the toughest holiday season I’ve ever had,” Howard said. “It has undoubtedly been a tough week for everyone working at Vail Mountain, and I am grateful for all of their hard work to put in under the stress of the holidays and the resurgence of COVID-19.”

But many skiers and cyclists are complaining on social media that the problem runs deeper and affects Vail Resorts properties nationwide, saying the company should have done more to address its labor shortage. . Buzz Schleper, who moved to Vail from Minnesota in 1972 and owns a ski and snowboard shop just steps from Gondola One in Vail Village, complains that Vail could and should have had more snow in November to accommodate the crowds. Thanksgiving weekend. Only one elevator was working then.

“The high end, they make a lot of money in bonuses and stock options,” Schleper said. “They have to pay a higher salary for people to work for them. COVID may have come into play, but I think it’s just a lack of employees and I think Vail Resorts needs to pay their employees more. It seems to me that Vail Resorts is all about the money. They oversold the passes; they don’t care as much about the experience of the skier, the consumer.

Keystone has 38% of its land in use and Breckenridge has 60%. Both are owned by Vail Resorts.

“Thanks to the recent snowfall in December, our crews have been able to open up additional terrain areas around resorts that require natural snow, and they will continue to carry out snow removal work at all resorts to expand the terrain as quickly and as quickly as possible. as safely as possible,” spokeswoman Loryn Roberson said. “When it comes to impacts due to COVID-19, one of the biggest challenges we’re facing right now is the day-to-day staffing impacts due to cold symptoms and COVID-19 exclusions.”

Like Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone employees must be vaccinated and are asked to stay home when they feel sick.

“The good news is that our employees are doing the right thing and staying home,” Roberson said. “But on the other hand, that means we’re seeing and experiencing operational impacts on the mountain at a higher rate than expected due to the omicron variant. That’s part of the reason why you can see some lifts or areas of land not yet open, closed retail stores or reduced options at outlets (food and drink).

To complicate matters in Breckenridge, longtime resident CJ Mueller said a non-COVID virus was circulating there. Mueller had felt the effects for two weeks.

“I was negative for COVID, but it was viral and it was the same symptoms,” said Mueller, who moved to Breckenridge a year out of high school in 1970 to be a ski bum. “They’re showing symptoms of something that’s not COVID, but it’s still a viral cold, and they can spread it the same way. I’ve never felt anything close to having to see a doctor, but you don’t want to give it to anyone else.

At Steamboat, spokeswoman Loryn Duke acknowledged that COVID in that community is “in full swing,” but said it hasn’t caused too many staffing issues.

“We have staff staying home when symptomatic, positive and/or exposed,” Duke said. “It hasn’t affected our available land. We’re about 90% open, with 147 of 169 trails, and the remaining terrain is mostly expert terrain and terrain parks that rely heavily on Mother Nature’s love.

Winter Park had about 10% of its land open before the storms that were such a timely boon to vacation resorts. Now that figure is 77%.

“Weather and snowfall conditions in late fall and early winter have impacted the amount of land currently operated by Winter Park,” spokeswoman Jen Miller said. “While the last storm gave us plenty of fresh snow, our ski patrollers and other trail operations crews still have work to do to open up more terrain safely. This next round of snow will allow us to open even more.

Arapahoe Basin spokeswoman Katherine Fuller said some restaurant operations were expected to be limited during the holidays there, but staffing issues have not affected the amount of land they can offer.

“We’ve been opening up new terrain at a rapid pace, thanks to all the recent snowfall,” Fuller said.

At Copper Mountain, which is 67% open, spokeswoman Taylor Prather said field openings have not been affected by COVID staffing issues. It hasn’t been a problem in Cooper either, a small area near Leadville.

“We’re doing great,” Cooper spokeswoman Dana Johnson said, “and we’re 100% open.”

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