Ski resorts are following the lead of the cruise industry and shuttering dozens of North America’s most popular resorts amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Industry leaders Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company decided late Saturday they would close 49 of North America’s most popular resorts, an abrupt about-face after vowing previously to remain open during the crisis but take steps to prevent the virus’ spread.
Vail Resorts announced it would shut down its 34 resorts for a week before reassessing, while Alterra closed 15 resorts indefinitely. The Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado and the Aspen Skiing Company followed suit Saturday night.
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The announcements came amid an executive order from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis requiring all of the state’s ski resorts to close
“Colorado is strong and we will get through this together. The safety and health of our most vulnerable and of our communities is our top priorities,” Polis said. “Everyone must do their part in stopping the spread of this virus. The slopes will still be there when this is all over.”
Colorado has 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus and one death as of Sunday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Vail’s resorts 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.
Alterra’s include Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado; Squaw Valley, Mammoth and Big Bear Mountain in California; Crystal Mountain in Washington; Stratton and Sugarbush in Vermont; and Deer Valley and Solitude in Utah.
In a news release, Vail Resort CEO Rob Katz acknowledged the short notice for guests already at or on their way to the resorts.
“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,” his statement said.
Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory also apologized but called it a decision in the best interest of the guests, undertaken with thought and deliberation. “We look forward to welcoming you back to the mountains as circumstances improve,” he added.
Both companies promised to work with skiers who had tickets or plans to come.
The Telluride Ski Resort decided to close immediately after learning that Polis planned to issue his executive order. Late Saturday, the Aspen Skiing Company announced it was closing ski operations at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass because of Polis’ order.
“We understand that this impacts a huge number of people. Our employees, guests and the community as a whole,” the company said in a statement. “We are working now to address all of these issues and will work with each of these groups to minimize the impacts where we can.”
The company added the plan will be to “conduct some limited on-mountain maintenance to potentially have a limited late-season opening if circumstances allow. We are all skiers at heart and we understand the therapeutic nature of our shared passion.”
Online, those who had ski trips planned soon expressed dismay and frustration over last-minute cancellations.
“I appreciate there are far, far worse outcomes with the current Coronavirus outbreak, but our much-needed and much-anticipated ski trip has been canceled today, so I need 24 hours to grieve,” tweeted @mrslaurawood.
“Thank you for making this announcement as we are driving in to Vail,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp tweeted Saturday at the Vail Resorts account. “Came all the way from Florida only to have our family’s vacation destroyed.”
Polis responded to Kottkamp’s complaint: “Thank you for your deep concerns regarding the health of our residents in the face of a global pandemic, as well as your heartfelt sympathy for the difficulties faced by those who work in the ski industry and hospitality.”
Thank you for your deep concerns regarding the health of our residents in the face of a global pandemic, as well as your heartfelt sympathy for the difficulties faced by those who work in the ski industry and hospitality
In issuing his order Saturday night, Polis said: “It is with a profound sense of pain and grim responsibility that I take the agonizing action that this moment demands. I take solace in knowing that while we will be temporarily closed for business, we will be saving the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Coloradans in the days and weeks ahead.”
In California, the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows ski resort announced late Saturday night that it will suspend operations starting Sunday.
“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this short notice will undoubtedly create. We look forward to welcoming you back to the mountains as circumstances improve,” the company said in a statement.
The developments followed closures announced earlier by a trio of smaller resorts: Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, Jay Peak Resort in Vermont and Shanty Creek Resort in Michigan. Taos will close for the season starting March 22, while Jay Peak and Shanty are closing for the season starting this weekend.
The 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 sanitizing stations and vowing to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Contributing: The Associated Press and Hannah Yasharoff and Kim Willis, USA TODAY
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