SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Ski resorts in United States are grappling with how to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus as most planned to stay open as ski season nears an end.
Some resorts 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 sanitizer stations and vowing to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A few resorts, including Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, Jay Peak Resort in Vermont and Shanty Creek Resort in Michigan, have decided to close for the season.
Still, some ski resorts are touting the popular winter activity as a relatively safe option for diversion as concerts, sporting events and museums close.
â€œSkiers are pretty well covered from head-to-toe and being outdoors, the contamination factor is minimized,â€ said Tom Watkinson, spokesman for Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado.
Snowbird resort in Utah said it will close its aerial tram but stay open. It explained in an online post that skiing is â€œbeneficial for the soul to live and enjoy the adventure lifestyle-and this is particularly the case in times like this, when anxiety and stress are high.â€
Avid back-country skier Michele Dauber strongly believes that resorts should be shut down to contain the spread of the virus.
â€œThis is why Disneyland closed. This is why cruises don’t make sense. A ski resort is just a cruise ship in the snow,â€ said Dauber, who has a house in the Bear Valley area in California and is a professor at Stanford University. â€œPeople are just constantly wiping their noses and they’re wearing gloves so hand sanitizer isn’t the issue.”
In Washington – the hardest hit state in the United States – the Crystal Mountain ski resort southeast of Seattle remained open with all lifts except a gondola operating. But the resort has closed restaurants and indoor seating, encouraging people to bring their own lunch and eat outside or in their cars.
A bartender in the Utah ski town of Park City tested positive for coronavirus, Utah state health officials said Saturday. A county health official said he would not recommend shutting down the nearby resorts, but cautioned against traveling to the area. One of Colorado’s first cases was a man in his 30s visiting Colorado on a ski vacation.
The coronavirus, deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization, infected more than 150,000 people and killed over 5,700. The disease for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority recover.
Park City Mountain Resort, which is owned by Vail Resorts, is encouraging skiers and snowboarders to ride gondolas and chairlifts with only the people they are skiing with. The company said it will post signs with social distancing reminders at its resorts, which include Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Stowe Mountain in Vermont; and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada.
Jackson Hole in Wyoming closed its aerial tram and limited the number of people in gondolas. Mammoth in California said it planned to keep its gondolas half full and get rid of some chairs and tables in lodges to keep guests a safe distance apart. Powder Mountain in Utah ceased snowcat skiing because of tight quarters inside the vehicles.
Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort near Lake Placid in New York has closed its gondola and is limiting how many people are on lifts. The resort is also allowing only half the amount of people normally allowed at indoor facilities.
Most resorts stay open each year until mid-April or longer depending on conditions.
It remained unclear if the virus outbreak would decrease visitation to the resorts, but Vail Resorts said this week in a company report that visits were modestly below expectations.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard organization said Thursday all upcoming competitions in the United States had been canceled.
Resorts social media accounts were a mix of news about measures being taken to address the coronavirus and happy pictures and videos of skiers carving through fresh snow.
Powder Mountain in Utah posted a picture of a small group of skiers in lift line surrounded by pristine snow-capped trees and mountains around him with the caption: â€œGood morning and happy Saturday from Powder Mountain! Get outside and take advantage of the remaining winter days.”
Graham reported from Denver.