DENVER (KDVR) — Resort chairlift lines over the weekend are sparking mixed reactions with some people concerned about outbreaks and hypocrisy over COVID-19 capacity protocols at other businesses.
“I’ve been skiing since I was about 8 and it was by far the most snow I’ve been in my entire life, it was quite an experience,” skier Shawn Hughes said. “I definitely saw a line of the gondola more than I’ve ever seen but it makes sense.”
While fresh powder drew many to the slopes Saturday, the experience of walking up to massive lines had some asking for a refund.
“I myself paid $209 for a one-day lift ticket and I’m a senior and I got a discount so I can’t imagine what all these families were paying and they were faced with this,” John Lewis said.
Vail, Steamboat and Winter Park shared multiple tweets over the weekend largely crediting high winds for longer than normal lines in addition to guest’s excitement about the big snowfall.
For safety, the resorts temporarily shut down a number of lifts during high winds, pushing guests to the few that remained running.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) says it is very hard to use surveillance and outbreak data to attribute cases to specific exposures. In cases like lift lines, visitors and staff may have multiple opportunities for exposure if they are also eating out, mixing households, and/or traveling with friends.
Since Nov. 11, there have been 32 COVID-19 outbreaks associated with ski/board resorts and the ski/board industry. These outbreaks include 106 cases among staff and four cases among patrons. According to CDPHE, it is very hard to detect patron outbreak cases, so officials believe the reported number to be an underestimate.
Outbreak data from a report on Feb. 3 shows there are five active outbreaks within the ski/board industry all involving staff members. Some outbreaks are as small as two cases, others have 12. Outbreaks have been reported at locations like ski/board schools, mountain parking and mountain guest services. Copper, Steamboat and Breckenridge are included on this latest outbreak data list.
“They (Steamboat) did a really phenomenal jobs of keeping people safe,” Hughes said. “Everybody is wearing masks and even the dining situation all the tables are six feet apart.”
“I don’t think the mountain (Steamboat) has to change anything,” snowboard coach Trevor Mekelburg said, adding “I don’t see that line and think I’m in danger or anyone is in danger. I see that line and think this is kind of messed up for our local restaurants and local businesses that have been barely surviving and yet there looks to be a toilet paper line like when everything was going off the shelves going up the hill.”
While Winter Park is not included on the state’s latest list, a number of viewers contacted FOX31 Problem Solvers concerned about a potential outbreak in Grand County that they originated with staff members from Winter Park.
CDPHE tells FOX31 the outbreak is still under investigation and is not yet listed on the state’s website, but is likely to be added when the website is updated this week.
Investigators have not detected any cases involving patrons, but CDPHE says anyone who recently visited Winter Park should get tested and if they develop symptoms. Anyone who believes they were exposed should quarantine.
According to the state, Grand County and Winter Park are working diligently to mitigate disease transmission by quarantining individuals who have been exposed and isolating those who have tested positive.
Officials with Winter Park tell FOX31 there have been positive cases which have resulted in quarantines among employees, but through contact tracing, they have learned that most cases have transmitted at social gatherings and shared housing outside the work place.
A spokesperson from the state’s office provided FOX31 with this statement:
“Colorado’s world-class ski areas have set a new national standard for maintaining high rates of mask-wearing and social distancing in lift lines and base areas. But we can do even better. The need for extra spacing in lift lines and the influx of skiers avoiding dangerous conditions in the backcountry has created unique challenges, and many Colorado ski areas have already made great strides to address them. But more work needs to be done to address the challenges some faced from this past weekend. The state will continue to work with industry partners and ski communities in the high country so that Colorado can have a strong and safe season.”