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Partying with precautions in the ‘Encore month’ of September

Pandemic pause swamps September with events in Aspen and Snowmass

Carolyn Sackariason
For the Aspen Times Weekly
The Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, running Sept. 3-5, is requiring attendees show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test. (Aspen Times file)

As the saying has gone around these parts throughout this post-vaccine summer, “September is the new June” when it comes to festivals and events. But with COVID-19 cases again on the rise around the country, this month’s motto is now “partying with precautions.”

Every weekend in September now has a major event planned in Aspen or Snowmass.

The month kicks off with the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience Sept. 3-5, followed by the Food & Wine Classic the next weekend, then the Snowmass Wine Festival and finally, Aspen Ruggerfest.



There are other major events mixed in, like Aspen Filmfest, Aspen Film’s flagship event, held Sept. 21-26, and Aspen Autumn Words, a writers conference and literary festival, that’s also rescheduled from June to Sept. 26-Oct. 1.

Aspen Summer Words, a writers’ conference and literary festival normally hosted in June, has moved to late September and rebranded for 2021 as Aspen Autumn Words. (Courtesy photo)

“September to me is the encore month,” Debbie Braun, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, said early this summer. “We are bringing the best of the best in the music, the food, the writing, everything that Aspen has to offer.”




As events begin to ramp up for an action-packed September in Aspen and Snowmass, organizers and local public health officials are taking precautions as the coronavirus’ delta variant is leading to increased infections among children and the unvaccinated.

Pitkin County’s board of health recently adopted CDC guidelines regarding mask wearing, which is to do so indoors in high areas of transmission of the virus.

JoAnna Coffey, consumer and employee health protection supervisor for Pitkin County public health, said events that require a special event permit are required to file a safety plan with the local government

“Regardless of vaccinations, wear a mask inside,” Coffey said, while acknowledging that travel is a contributing factor to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country. “We are encouraging people to get vaccinated.”

The county website has the most updated information regarding where to get vaccines, tests and recommendations on precautions.

High occupancy numbers for September indicate there is pent-up demand to party, dance, imbibe and feed the cultural soul despite concerns about the delta variant.

According to occupancy numbers provided by tourism officials, occupancy for September is up 235% over last year and 161%

Industry observers predicted that this September will be record breaking in terms of occupancy, which will hover between 55% and 60% in Aspen and Snowmass.

It remains an unpredictable moment in an unprecedented time.

Most events are requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 or 72 hours to enter.

That’s the case with the Labor Day Experience, opening Friday and expected to draw crowds of up to 10,000 to Snowmass Town Park.

The pre-pandemic crowd at the 2017 Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience. (Aspen Times file)

All attendees, staff and volunteers must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test from up to 72 hours prior to the concert.

For those unable to get tested in advance, Jazz Aspen is also providing mobile testing sites starting on the morning of Sept. 3 in Aspen and at the Brush Creek intercept lot.

Jazz Aspen will provide kiosks both at the site and in designated spots in Aspen and Snowmass for attendees to have their status verified. Once their status is verified, they will receive a wristband that will be good for the weekend.

Labor Day fest producers are recommending that all attendees congregate within their group at least 6 feet away from other groups.

Social distancing may be difficult in a festival setting, of particular concertn for Food and Wine, which normally kicks off the summer tourism season. But with COVID-19 concerns still lingering, the culinary festival was moved back and added to an already jam-packed September lineup of events, expecting that large gatherings would be easier to pull off three months later and not anticipating the surge of COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated Americans and the many event cancellations that have followed for September and the fall.

Event organizers say they are working diligently to make it as safe as an environment as possible.

“Our single most important priority for the event is keeping everyone safe and minimizing the risk of COVID spread in light of the delta variant,” reads a letter to ticket holders, vendors, sponsors, talent and volunteers from Food & Wine. “As a result, we are adding extra precautions throughout the weekend.”

New safety protocols, including ones that were already in place before the recent delta variant surge nationwide, include a 60% reduction in capacity of normal levels to reduce density.

Food & Wine Classic at Aspen's Wagner Park in June 2017.

More venues will be moved outside to increase airflow, and the sides of tents will be opened to improve air circulation.

The target is more than 75% of events to be held in outdoor venues, according to Food & Wine’s protocols filed with Pitkin County public health as part of the event’s safety plan.

Lower-risk, more widely spaced classroom and theater-style seating at event venues will be in effect when applicable.

All attendees will be required to complete an entry questionnaire to confirm either full vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event in order to participate.

After the acknowledgment and confirmation of a vaccination or a negative test, along with having no symptoms of COVID, all attendees will be required to wear an event-issued wristband for access to event venues.

All event personnel, vendors, staff, crew, volunteers — indoors and outdoors — as well as all people serving food or drinks will be required to wear masks.

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen will return to its regularly scheduled time, the third weekend of June, in 2022.

After a year hiatus due to the pandemic, the 53rd annual Aspen Ruggerfest — a renowned international rugby tournament hosted by the Gentlemen of Aspen — will return after being postponed in 2020. It will be hosted Sept. 23-26.

The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club plays Vail on Saturday, July 24, 2021, at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

In between it all, there is the Snowmass Balloon Festival, held Sept. 10-12. Also during that time in Snowmass is the University of Colorado’s collegiate mountain biking competition scheduled for Sept. 11-12.

The Snowmass Wine Festival grand tasting is Saturday, Sept. 18. In its 19th year, the festival features 20 tables of light food from local providers and 35 tables of wine vendors under the tent at Snowmass Town Park.

Beatriz Lopes, center right, and Dylan Brown, right, share a moment during the start of the 44th Annual Snowmass Balloon Festival in Snowmass on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

For Braun and other tourism officials, it’s been refreshing this summer to talk about what is happening instead of canceled events.

“I’m excited to talk about anything besides COVID,” she said. “We aren’t talking about that anymore, but rather recovery.”


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