No more self-service at ski resort beverage kiosks
Coffee and cocoa carts will shift from self-service to staffed, touchless operations
Aspen Skiing Co. spent hundreds of hours this fall developing operating procedures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the ski season. Skico officials worked extensively with health experts and ski industry organizations to find a way to “get open and stay open” amid tight COVID restrictions that impact nearly every aspect of the resort experience.
There are new contactless ticket kiosks, mandatory face covering policies, social distancing measures and frequent sanitizing at nearly every point of contact across Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.
And yet skiers and snowboarders could still pour their own cup of coffee at loosely monitored self-service beverage carts throughout the first week of operations at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.
That’s about to change, said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications. After The Aspen Times inquired about the self-service stations and the company’s COVID-conscious operating procedures, Skico will now implement staff at the carts to pour beverages for guests.
The self-service nature of the coffee carts diverged from Skico’s 53-page operations plan submitted to health officials Nov. 11. That plan included provisions to reduce touch points at the carts by shifting to a grab-and-go format in which employees would pre-pour the drinks into disposable cups for guests to pick up without needing to touch shared surfaces like handles on the dispensers.
That idea had been scrapped over concerns that employees would need to touch every cup before serving guests, Hanle said. But discussions with the mountain operations team on Thursday prompted the company to revert to the original, touchless plan for the carts.
“It’s an oversight on our part” that the touchless strategy described in the operating plan wasn’t implemented earlier, Hanle said. “We are going to do what we said we would do in our plan.”
As of Thursday afternoon, self-service stations (but not refills) are currently allowed in Pitkin County, according to Bryan Daugherty, Tucker Valtin and JoAnna Coffey from Pitkin County Public Health’s consumer protection team.
“Aspen Ski Company’s self-serve coffee stations are in compliance as long as their patrons are using new cups every time and they are not allowing refills,” the team wrote in a joint email.
Skico did have ambassadors nearby to keep tabs on the kiosks, Hanle said. He also emphasized in a phone call and in a follow-up email Thursday that employees were sanitizing the beverage stations as often as possible — “but not between every use,” he wrote in an email.
But even with frequent sanitizing, the self-service carts diverged from food safety guidance issued by the Food and Drug Association aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. According to a “Best Practices” overview on the FDA’s website, “high-touch, self-service containers and items requiring frequent hand contact” should be “removed from use, or appropriately washed, cleaned and sanitized, and changed after each customer/party is served” — that would be a wipe-down after every single person who poured their own coffee at the cart.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s COVID-19 guidelines are even more stringent: per a public health order issued on Nov. 20, the state mandates the elimination of self-service stations (including coffee urns like those used at Skico’s kiosks) and the a conversion to touchless stations “wherever practicable.”
(Though this guidance appeared only as a recommendation on the state’s website on the afternoon of Dec. 3, a CDPHE spokesperson wrote in an email Thursday evening that the website would be updated to reflect the mandate of the public health order.)
By implementing staff at those kiosks to pour the beverages, the carts are now in alignment with that state and federal guidance.
But with the ever-changing nature of COVID-19 restrictions in mind, the free beverage stations will be subject to modifications throughout the season. According to Hanle, the carts may not appear at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola during busy periods because long lines extending into the gondola plaza can inadvertently cause crowding near the kiosks.
“We’ll have to be mobile and flexible as we go through the season,” Hanle said.
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U.S. Ski & Snowboard on Tuesday announced the final U.S. World Cup schedule, a lineup that includes the Aspen World Cup from March 3 to 5 on Aspen Mountain. Those races will include a men’s super-G and two men’s downhills.