Aspen Skiing Co. cancels events but keeps lifts spinning at all four ski areas

Skiers load onto the Silver Queen Gondola on Thursday, March 12, 2020. A sign was posted giving people an opportunity to express that they would like to ride alone due to the coronavirus health concerns. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. has canceled multiple events this spring to try to ease the spread of the coronavirus but, for now, it will keep the lifts spinning at all four ski areas.

Skico announced Thursday that it canceled the Hi Fi Concerts, the Kick Aspen Big Air, NASTAR National Championships and the U.S. Tech Championships.

“Even though these are outdoor activities, they bring people together in close proximity,” said Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications. Some officials around the country are advising against holding activities larger than 250 people, though other recommendations are for much lower gatherings.

Skico also is taking steps to increase social spacing that health experts say is important to deter the spread of the virus.

The company will remove some seating in its restaurants and it won’t load unrelated parties or singles onto partially occupied cabins of the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain or Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass. Gondola cabins are being disinfected daily. In addition, secondary lifts such as Little Nell at Aspen Mountain are being activated to provide alternative, open-air access to the slopes.

As long as there are ample numbers of customers and employees, all four ski areas will remain open, Hanle said. The company has contingencies in place in case business tumbles. One option would be paring back the number of operating ski areas.

Skier visits were respectable on Thursday but not where Skico officials would like to see them for a sunny day during spring break in March.

“We are seeing an increase in cancellations,” Hanle said. “We are seeking an increase in inquiries.”

The number of calls the company is fielding is “a lot,” he said.

The coronavirus pandemic likely will derail what was shaping up to be another very strong season for Skico and the Colorado ski industry. Skier visits for Skico were tracking about on par with last season, which was a record. Hanle said Thursday the expectation is business will fall off pace.

Skico emailed customers Thursday afternoon alerting them about the coronavirus developments in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

“As you are likely aware, there have been a number of presumptive positive tests of COVID-19 in Aspen in the past 36 hours,” the email said. “While these cases are all tied to a single visiting group from Australia, it is likely we will see additional cases in coming days. You should know that the state is advising anyone over 60 years old and those with compromised immune systems or respiratory issues not travel to the Colorado high country.”

Hanle said no Skico employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and he was unaware of any employee staying home with symptoms of the virus.

Two of the Australians who have tested positive for the virus are quarantined in a room at The Little Nell hotel.

Skico also relaxed its cancellation policies at its accommodations, including The Little Nell, Residences at The Little Nell, and Limelight hotels in Aspen and Snowmass Village. Credits will be extended for up to one year from the date of cancellation. The company also is taking steps to salvage future business by creating flexible booking opportunities for this summer and next ski season. Guests can book now and cancel without penalty this summer if the coronavirus situation worsens.

The current closing dates for the four ski areas are April 5 for Buttermilk, April 12 for Aspen Highlands and April 19 for Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.

Skico’s update on coronavirus also was on social media. The reception was mostly positive on Facebook.

“Thank you for the info. I am looking forward to my upcoming visit,” said a woman from Boston.

Another potential visitor said, “Our school just canceled for next week. We may head there now.”

One commenter was critical of Skico’s direction. “Wow, even Disneyland is closing and you are still open risking people’s lives?”

Other commenters came to Skico’s defense, noting that social distancing is significantly easier on the ski slopes than at a crowded amusement park.

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