Aspen Skiing Co. shuts down all four mountains after governor orders closure

Aspen Skiing Co. announced Saturday night it will close all ski operations at its four ski areas immediately “by order of the governor of the state of Colorado.”

Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk won’t open starting Sunday.

“We wanted to stay open through (Sunday) but were told we could not,” Skico vice president of communications Jeff Hanle said Saturday. “The order is imminent tonight.”

When asked if Skico agreed with the direction from the governor’s office, Hanle replied, “Nothing is black and white. We were told to shut down so we’re shutting down.”

The executive order issued by Polis directs ski resorts to suspend operations for one week “to slow the spread of COVID-19 and conserve medical resources in the state’s mountain communities. The Governor will continue to monitor the course of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state and may amend this Executive Order accordingly.”

In a statement Saturday night, the governor’s office said, “The Governor spent Saturday on the phone with resort community county commissioners, community public health officials, their community emergency operations command and several mountain hospitals and what became clear from those conversations was that given the conditions on the ground and the rapid spread of the virus, the time to act was now.”

The order forced Skico to reverse the position laid out Friday by President and CEO Mike Kaplan. He said the company had considered all moral, legal and business issues and decided to keep its ski areas open while taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We think it is the right thing to do,” Kaplan said Friday. “We see it as a vital public service to stay up and running.”

Polis expressed at a new conference Friday that he supported ski areas remaining open while taking precautions.

However, his position changed in the rapidly evolving situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Never would I have believed that a global pandemic would force the temporary closure of our world-class ski resorts,” Polis said in a news release Saturday night that accompanied the issuing of the order. He continued, “It is with a profound sense of pain and grim responsibility that I take the agonizing action that this moment demands. I take solace in knowing that while we will be temporarily closed for business, we will be saving the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Coloradans in the days and weeks ahead.”

Skico’s Kaplan alerted employees about the closure moments before the public release. He started it by saying, “I am very sad to inform you that by order of the Governor of the State of Colorado we are closing all ski operations immediately.”

The company is holding out hope of reopening.

“Our plan is to conduct some limited on-mountain maintenance to potentially have a limited late season opening if circumstances allow,” Skico said in a statement. “We are all skiers at heart and we understand the therapeutic nature of our shared passion. Extreme circumstances call for extreme actions, and we make this decision in coordination with our local and state health agencies. Let’s work together as a community to support each other and will all come out stronger on the other side.”

Skico is closing The Little Nell Hotel in Aspen and the Limelight Snowmass for the season March 23 with the plan of reopening them for summer. The Limelight Aspen will remain open.

“We will be offering refunds or credits and will work with each guest for the best desired outcome,” the company said in its statement. “If you are a guest in this situation, please be patient as we expect a large volume of calls and we will do everything we can to get to you as quickly as possible. You do not need to reach us right away to qualify for a refund or credit.”

Skico will offer two additional weeks of scheduled pay to all impacted seasonal employees.

Reaction was mixed on social media. Even before the executive order by Polis, some people questioned why Skico and other resorts weren’t closing. However, more people appeared to applaud Skico for keeping the lift running and allowing people to be in an open-air activity during a difficult time.

Skico also had taken the step of allowing people to take the Silver Queen and Elk Camp gondolas with their own group and not with any strangers.

The Aspen Times received an email Saturday night from a writer who said his family had just driven from Kansas City for a ski trip.

“Please do not close the Aspen mountains,” said the email from Kyle Krizman. “If you have to make special regulations please at least stay open for a few more days or like make it where you have to get tested for a fever.”

Ski resorts around the region started announcing closures Saturday.

Vail Resorts started the ball rolling in Colorado with an announcement at 4:09 p.m. that it would close all its North American resorts today through March 22, and then reassess its approach for the rest of the season.

The decision affected Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte in Colorado.

“I commend Vail Resorts for taking this difficult, responsible step and urge other mountains and resorts to do the same,” Polis said in a statement issued at 4:55 p.m.

At 5:35 p.m., Alterra Mountain Co. announced it was closing its resorts until further notice. The company owns Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain in California; and Deer Valley in Utah, among others.

Alterra is partially owned by the Crown family, which owns all of Aspen Skiing Co. That foreshadowed Aspen Skiing Co.’s decision.

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