As spring break near, ski towns are hiring private security, launching ads in Texas and putting up signs

With spring break crowds set to descend on Colorado, ski resort communities are urging visitors to wear masks and follow other pandemic guidelines in hopes of preventing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. And they’re not waiting for those tourists to arrive to drive home the message.

Eagle County is getting the word out to visitors when they make their reservations, as well as using social media, advertising, signage on roads and in pedestrian villages. Summit County also is conducting a public-relations campaign in partnership with municipal governments.

In case visitors don’t get the message before they arrive, the town of Breckenridge is hiring event security personnel to walk around Main Street, reminding non-complying visitors that there is a mask mandate in force.

“I think the biggest fear folks have is the relaxation of restrictions in other states — elimination of mask mandates and those sorts of things — that maybe gives people a false sense that when they come to Summit County, they can not wear a mask when they are in a public place,” said Summit County manager Scott Vargo. “It’s really just us trying to emphasize that message for the visitors. Our local population understands the importance of us continuing to have those precautions in place, and they’ve done a fantastic job over the course of the season in reinforcing that message with guests coming into their businesses or their ski area or their restaurant.”

Eagle County, which is home to Vail and Beaver Creek, is renewing a campaign called “Come well. Stay well. Leave well,” which it initially put in place for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“The towns, resorts, chambers of commerce and many other organizations are helping us spread the word,” said Kris Widlak, director of communications for Eagle County. “We expect our visitors to follow all public health guidelines and live by our ‘5 Commitments of Containment.’ ” Those include observing 6-foot physical distancing; wearing face coverings in public; frequent hand washing; remaining home when sick; and getting tested immediately if symptoms arise.

Summit County is conducting a “heavy marketing push”  that includes targeting states where many of its visitors tend to come from, including Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, according to town of Breckenridge spokeswoman Haley Littleton.

“We are just so thrilled that people still want to come to Breckenridge, that they still see it as a safe and viable vacation destination,” Littleton said. “We want to make sure they stay safe, and our workers stay safe, because our (COVID-19) numbers are trending really well right now.”

Summit County is one of the busiest ski destinations in the country with four resorts: Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. It is currently listed at Level Yellow on the state COVID-19 dial but is operating at Level Blue with 5-Star status

“We certainly are in a decent place right now, in terms of our case activity,” Vargo said. “Our positivity rate is down about as low as it has been since before Labor Day. We’re really going in a good direction, and it seems like every time we start to go in that direction, there’s some other sort of event or activity or holiday. In this case, it’s spring break.”

The executive order by Gov. Jared Polis that shut down the ski industry last year was issued a year ago this weekend, on a Saturday night when many spring-breakers were just arriving.

“It’s incredibly important for us, as a county and as a community, to be able to be open during this time of the year for our workforce, for our business community,” Vargo said. “We certainly have some wariness and come concern about spring break and what impact it might have. We’re hoping our messaging around wearing masks, around physical distancing, around taking all the necessary precautions — that people take those seriously when they come to visit.”

Winter Park resort is increasing staffing to monitor mask enforcement in lift lines and in the base area, according to spokeswoman Jen Miller.

Last summer, the town of Breckenridge instituted a “mask ambassador” program involving town staff, including workers who had been furloughed, Littleton said. But with spring break looming, town officials this year decided to hire a private security firm to monitor mask compliance on Main Street.

“It’s a busier time for us, so the conversation was that we needed our police officers doing other things, like directing traffic,” Littleton said. “We wanted to create sort of a buffer zone for them, so they can focus on their jobs and making sure that people are following the right protocols before they go into a business.”

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Adventurist, to get outdoors news sent straight to your inbox.

Read more at the Denver Post