Adapting day by day: Snowmass works to keep up with evolving COVID-19 outbreak
Editor’s Note: Over the past week, a multitude of state and county public health orders and guidelines related to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 have been released on an ever-changing basis. This story is based on the most current information as of Tuesday, March 17 at 12 p.m.
For more up to date information on COVID-19 related health recommendations, cancellations and closures, please visit refer to the following local sources:
-Snowmass Village COVID-19 updates only: tosv.com/495/COVID-19-UPDATES
-Pitkin County and regional updates: pitkincounty.com/corona; or the Aspen to Parachute community hotline at 970-429-6186.
-Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment updates: covid19.colorado.gov.
There’s been a lot of change in Snowmass Village over the past five days.
On March 14, the town was bustling with locals and visitors recreating on the mountain and spending time throughout the village.
By March 16, the town felt as if it was in the middle of the offseason, with no lifts spinning, fewer people on the snow and not many businesses open.
But this wasn’t a result of the offseason. This was the fallout of several incrementally impactful state and county orders that mandated social distancing, closed down the state’s ski areas for one week, and shut down dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters and casinos to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
“Everyone is working hard to support one another during this difficult time,” said Mayor Markey Butler on March 16 of the county and local response to COVID-19. “There are people who have stepped up to do grocery shopping and pick up medications for those who are vulnerable and I think that speaks very, very highly to the spirit of Snowmass Village.”
At a Town Council meeting March 16, the main agenda item was to declare a local disaster emergency in Snowmass Village, which would allow the town to seek external financial aid if needed as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to develop and evolve.
As councilmembers sat roughly 6 feet a part, Town Manager Clint Kinney explained the resolution, which notes the town hasn’t incurred any direct expenses as a result of COVID-19 as of March 16, and updated council on how the town was working alongside the county to mitigate virus spread.
Kinney said Snowmass Village is implementing all Pitkin County Public Health decisions and following the lead of the incident management team in place, which the town is a part of and working with to push out accurate information to all valley locals.
“We’re doing our best to make sure good, accurate information goes out and to answer questions when they arise,” Kinney said. “As a town staff, we’re trying to be cautious and calm.”
In Snowmass specifically, several closures and cancellations were made to limit the novel coronavirus spread, including the closure of the town’s recreation center, Snowmass Club and Snowmass Cross Country Center, The Collective as well as most of Base Village, Viceroy Snowmass and all dine-in only restaurants and bars per state public health order.
The town’s Village Shuttle schedule also was amended as of March 17 afternoon, but town buses are still running and available for on-call transportation.
According to Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, her staff was working on checking in with all village lodging, restaurants and businesses to see if they’re open and what services they may be offering March 16.
The tourism department has “pivoted” from working to get people to visit for the end of the ski season in April to almost solely focusing on its summer event planning and marketing, and will continue to adapt its operations with the state of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“From what we can tell the community and our stakeholders are in a sort of decision making mode right now,” Abello said, emphasizing how quickly the outbreak response evolves each day.
“As a team, our biggest focuses right now are how to take care of our employees and businesses and how to take care of our guests who are still here.”
At the Westin Snowmass Resort and Wildwood Snowmass Hotel, complex manager Jeffery Burrell said both hotels have gone from nearly full occupancy to just a handful of guests in a matter of days, and that he’s had to lay off a large chunk of his staff as a result of the COVID-19 spread nationwide.
Despite these setbacks, Burrell said morale seems pretty good at both hotels considering everything. He also said his staff will continue to seek guidance from the complex owners on if they need to close completely before the end of their winter season on April 19.
“Yes, this has been dramatically impactful but we know people will yearn to come back to the mountains when this passes,” Burrell said. “People seem to be in a state of shock because no one has ever seen or experienced anything like this, but we are banding together and are very much like a big family anyway.”
Burrell’s sentiments were echoed by a handful of other business managers, restaurant owners and town officials this week as Snowmass continues to navigate a path forward that protects public health and provides access to the vital services people need.
Trevor Moodie, store director at Clark’s Market on the Village Mall, said he does not anticipate changing the store’s available services much unless he has to, as he understands the market offers a vital need to the community.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure the store is a safe place to still come and shop,” Moodie said. “I’m so, so happy with our employees and the job they’re doing and don’t see much more change going forward.”
Moodie said the Snowmass Clark’s is still getting deliveries in, expanding the warehouses it orders from to ensure it can bring in most all the grocery items locals may need, and is closing its doors at 8 p.m. so employees can spend the last two hours of the night deep-cleaning the store.
Places like Sundance Liquor and Gifts are implementing similar strategies, striving to keep their businesses as hygienic as possible.
On a big picture level, while town officials said they can’t predict the future, staff members like Kinney and Marianne Rakowski, town finance director, feel Snowmass Village is in a strong state economically to handle the negative impacts of less visitors and less local services.
Kinney said that with credit to the current council, the town’s doubled its designated reserves over the past four years and more than doubled its undesignated reserves, putting the village in good shape if less visitors come to Snowmass or if a recession hits the U.S. due to the spread of the virus.
Over 2019 specifically, the town had a really good year tax revenue wise, Rakowski said, specifically with lodging tax revenue jumping up almost 17% from the year prior.
Rakowski also said the marketing, lodging and general funds all have reserves that are 30% of each fund’s revenue, giving the town some cushion.
“We have a great start going into whatever this year is going to bring because of the coronavirus and what’s happening with the world economy,” Rakowski said. “So I feel like we’re in a really good position right now.”
Overall, many town leaders and stakeholders expressed confidence in Snowmass Village’s resiliency and a dedication to ensuring all residents who need help now and as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves receive it.
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The town of Snowmass Village has its eyes on some safety improvements on Highline Road and a section of Brush Creek Road that will give pedestrians and cyclists a little more room to breathe on the side of the road.