Neustadter: COVID-19 has jeopardized the ski industry

Corinne Neustadter

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Last week was the first week of Colorado’s safer-at-home initiative that allowed certain businesses to open while aiming to keep 60-65% of the population socially distanced.

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It’s safe to say that this initiative has been met with conflict at the state and national levels. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has chosen to extend the city’s stay-at-home order until May 8, and Weld County has taken a diametrically opposed position, giving all businesses the agency to decide whether or not they’d like to reopen.

This transition marks a departure from Gov. Jared Polis’ previous policies. For the last five weeks, Polis has been intent on carrying out Colorado’s stay-at-home order, which has closed many Colorado businesses in the process. 

Some of the businesses hit hardest from this order have been the Colorado ski areas, where spring skiing significantly impacts their revenue, totaling between $5 and $6 billion in March alone. As I discussed in my previous article, this has resulted in a huge backcountry skiing spike and serious consequences for Colorado’s mountain communities.

Colorado’s response to COVID-19 also continues to have dire impacts on the downhill ski industry.

Ski areas were first forced to close on March 14, the original order halting all operations for a week. Polis’ first executive order that completely shut down all ski areas took effect on a Saturday night, and ski resorts were expected to be closed by the next day.

While the shutdown of ski areas represents a well-intentioned attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 in mountain communities, it has drastically hurt the ski industry with its quick implementation and lack of foresight. 

Although some ski areas shut down before the order was enacted, others were forced to close within a day of the order’s writing. However, just two days prior, an official from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment had stated that there were no plans to close ski areas.

The loss of revenue that it has generated will have repercussions on the tourism industry, as well as state and local governments’ economic viability.”

The timing of this order, given the significant burden it placed on ski areas to halt all operations in the middle of one of their busiest months, stands in opposition to the bulk of Polis’ recent statewide orders.

In the past month, thousands of seasonal ski area workers have lost their jobs, with Vail Resorts alone laying off roughly 2,000 employees across Colorado. Although this furlough hopefully shouldn’t last for more than six months, thousands of employees dependent on ski resorts for stable incomes are now potentially left jobless for the next few months. 

As economically dependent as Colorado is on the ski industry, and given how many people it impacts, why wasn’t the closure of all ski areas announced with more notice?

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The safer-at-home phase, which arguably has more ramifications for social distancing and community spread than ski area closures, was announced a week in advance of the order’s implementation. Although new cases of COVID-19 are now decreasing from the last major spike in Colorado, loosening restrictions could lead to another surge in cases later on.

Despite the safer-at-home initiative, there is little indication, if any, of whether Colorado’s ski areas will reopen this season. Many resorts were already scheduled to close by the end of April, giving little to no opportunity for them to recoup any lost revenue this year. 

Polis has now extended the closure of downhill ski areas until May 23, so ski areas that could still open after that date would have a very limited number of days remaining. Arapahoe Basin, historically the ski area with one of the longest seasons in Colorado, is usually only open until the first or second week of June. 

To reopen a ski area and operate it for only a few weeks may not be economically viable, especially with the loss of revenue that every ski resort has endured in the last month. Several ski areas and multi-resort passes are giving current season pass holders substantial discounts for next year to try and make up for the loss of part of the ski season this year.

However, it’s almost impossible to gauge how much of an impact the statewide closure of all ski areas will continue to have on Colorado’s economy. The loss of revenue that it has generated will have repercussions on the tourism industry, as well as state and local governments’ economic viability.

As we navigate this new safer-at-home initiative, it is imperative to analyze the impacts that COVID-19, as well as the state’s response to it, will continue to have on the ski industry for years to come.

Corinne Neustadter can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CorinneN14.