State gives ski areas proposed guidelines for COVID-19 operating plans, asks for public feedback

With three ski areas already making snow in anticipation of opening soon, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued proposed guidelines on Wednesday mandating that resorts work out operational plans for pandemic mitigation in collaboration with local public health authorities, which would then need to be approved by CDPHE.

Ski areas, community officials, business owners and the public have until Friday at 10 a.m. to submit feedback before guidelines are finalized.

As outlined in an 11-page document, CDPHE wants ski areas to develop plans with local public health departments regarding capacity numbers as well as requirements for social distancing on the mountains, in lift lines, in base areas and parking lots; configuration of gondola seating to achieve social distancing; ensuring masks are worn “to the maximum extent possible,” indoors and outdoors, in ski schools, on chairlifts and gondolas with exceptions for eating “or while actively engaged in skiing, riding” or other outdoor activities; managing crowd sizes to ensure that indoor spaces don’t become places of “gathering or congregation,” and making sure social distancing is maintained in restrooms and locker rooms.

Related: What is the outlook for snow in Colorado ski country this winter?

As a practical matter, ski areas across the state already were working with local public health officials to formulate approved plans for opening.

At Loveland ski area, where snowmaking operations began on Monday, spokesman John Sellers said the guidelines issued Wednesday came as no surprise, adding that the ski industry’s trade association, Colorado Ski Country USA, has been working with state officials.

“We do not anticipate any delays to our opening day,” Sellers said.

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Colorado Ski Country USA represents 22 of the state’s 28 resorts — all but the five Vail Resorts areas and Wolf Creek.

“We appreciate the state’s efforts to work with the industry, local public health officials and counties to craft guidance that sets the stage for a long, successful ski season from a ski industry, public health and local community perspective,” Ski Country president Melanie Mills said in a statement. “Finalizing this guidance is an important step as ski areas across the state gear up for ski season and finalize their own area-specific plans for this winter.”

Chris Linsmayer, Ski County’s public affairs director, said he does not expect the guidelines to delay ski area openings. “At this point it’s much more dictated by weather than anything else,” Linsmayer said.

Ryan Huff, a spokesman for Vail Resorts, said the guidelines would have no impact on their projected opening dates. One of them, Keystone, has been making snow and is scheduled to open Nov. 6.

Related: Here’s when Colorado ski areas are expected to open this year

“We support the state’s draft ski area guidelines and agree with the governor’s assessment that our industry must be out-front in its approach to ensure a safe and successful ski and ride season in Colorado,” a statement from Vail Resorts said. “Our resort plans, which are consistent across all five of our Colorado resorts, were developed to prioritize the safety of our employees, guests and communities. We plan to update our operating practices, including our approach to loading lifts, to align with the state’s guidelines, subject to local review and discussion.”

Resorts also would be required to conduct health screenings for employees and guests to make sure those who are sick or exhibiting symptoms “are not allowed to participate.” They would be required to work with their communities “to create opportunities for visiting guests to safely isolate and quarantine” if they test positive. They would need to be ready to scale down operations “due to epidemiological developments due to COVID-19,” and they would need to have cancellation policies that do not make guests reluctant to cancel trips if they are sick.

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