Aspen Mountain, Snowmass tapping out for season, RFTA cutting routes because of coronavirus

A closed sign for the Silver Queen Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain on March 15, 2020.
Maddie Vincent/The Aspen Times

Despite a blanket of new snow, the coronavirus-interrupted 2019-20 ski season officially ended Friday. 

That was the word from the Aspen Skiing Co., whose spokesman said Friday afternoon that Wednesday’s extension of statewide closures until April 6 by Gov. Jared Polis effectively shut down skiing this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“… (We) are officially calling it a season at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass,” Jeff Hanle said in an email. “Crews are completing breakdown work now and will start to prep the mountains for summer construction projects next week.”

Hanle, however, left the ski season door slight ajar when it comes to Aspen Highlands, which he said is “closed for the foreseeable future.”

“If we are given advice that we can reopen sometime late in April by state and local health agencies, we would evaluate conditions for a limited opening,” Hanle said in a subsequent email. “This would likely be a bare-bones, limited services opening.”

Skico previously announced that Buttermilk is closed for the season. 

The state’s ski mountains closed starting March 15 under orders from the governor. Polis announced Thursday that bars and restaurants in the state will remain shuttered until April 30, in addition to other “non-essential services” like hair salons and barbers, tattoo and massage parlors and racetracks. 

Skico wasn’t the only one ramping down Friday amid the unfolding coronavirus epidemic. 

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority announced cuts to service across the board that will affect both local Aspen riders and downvalley riders, according to a news release. The following changes are in addition to previously announced reductions and will begin Monday: 

• In Aspen, all local routes will see reduced evening hours, with the last Hunter Creek, Cemetery Lane and Castle Maroon buses leaving Rubey Park at 11 p.m. The last Mountain Valley departure from Rubey Park will be at 11:15 p.m., while the last Burlingame bus will leave at 11:20 p.m.

• The Cross Town Shuttle will cease operation. 

• Direct bus service from Aspen to Snowmass Village will cease operation.

• The Woody Creek Shuttle will cease operation.

• Downvalley service will continue to run every half-hour throughout the day, then cut to every hour starting at 4:08 p.m. going upvalley and 8:15 p.m. heading downvalley. 

• The last local upvalley bus will depart the West Glenwood Park and Ride Lot at 9 p.m. 

• The last local downvalley bus will depart Rubey Park in Aspen at 11:15 p.m.

• BRT service will be reduced to every 20 minutes during peak hours and less frequently during non-peak hours, with service ending with the 10:47 p.m. bus from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. 

• The Carbondale Circulator will continue to operate.

• Ride Glenwood will cease operation.

The RFTA service cuts were necessary because of decreased ridership, staffing constraints and the need to continually disinfect buses throughout the day, according to the release. 

Those with disabilities can call RFTA at 970-945-9117 “to discuss your travel options due to the absence to service,” the release states. 

The governor’s closure orders, which are likely contributing significantly to RFTA’s reduced ridership, are hammering the state economy. At a media briefing Friday morning, Polis mainly focused on easing the economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent containment efforts. 

He said that while Colorado will need help from the federal government, the state is ready to help immediately with various efforts to help residents and business weather the crisis. Those initiatives include loans for small business, ensuring that people who can’t pay rent and mortgages aren’t evicted or face foreclosure and efforts to keep utilities on if people can’t pay the bills. 

Polis asked financial institutions and landlords to be merciful to people who don’t have money because they’ve lost jobs due to the virus. He also said state income tax payments will be extended 90 days until July for all filers with no conditions. 

“This will get worse before it gets better,” Polis said. 

Black Hills Energy announced Friday that is temporarily suspending disconnections because of nonpayment and directed customers to the company’s website to “explore options to assist those hardships,” according to a press release. 

The company also asked customers diagnosed with the virus or experiencing symptoms of it to consider postponing non-emergency calls. Crews that do respond to emergency calls “will be wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and following health practices as recommended by the CDC …” the release says. 

Better health practices prompted officials at Aspen Valley Hospital to erect a heated tent in front of the facility near the emergency room to screen patients referred to the hospital with respiratory symptoms, said Elaine Gerson, chief transformation officer at AVH. 

Previously, a nurse wearing protective equipment would have to walk outside and evaluate a patient before allowing access the emergency room, which is currently restricted, said Dave Ressler, AVH’s CEO. 

Gerson emphasized that the tent is not a COVID-testing tent, but rather a place to evaluate patients with respiratory issues. 

Ressler also clarified statements reported Thursday that AVH had zero patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Four patients have been admitted with COVID-19-like symptoms, though tests for two of them came back negative. The hospital was waiting for the results of the other two tests Friday, he said.

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