Skico sees good first week of summer season at Snowmass |

Skico sees good first week of summer season at Snowmass

Jacqui Ball makes a berm turn at the top of Valhalla in the Snowmass Downhill Bike Park on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. “We’re just so happy it’s open,” said Ball about the downhill park. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Just after 10:15 a.m. June 21, mountain bikers started lining up to ride the Elk Camp Gondola, with bodies and bikes extending nearly all the way from the Aspen Skiing Co. ticket office to the Skittles sky cab.

It was the opening day of the summer season and the first time the public was allowed up to the Elk Camp area since the sudden shutdown of all Colorado ski resorts in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Dozens of people returned to the Snowmass slopes June 21 to pedal the Snowmass Bike Park trails, hike, ride the alpine coaster and experience most all of what the Lost Forest adventure activity area has to offer — with most wearing face coverings and socially distancing from people outside of their small groups and households.

“We’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of mountain bikers on our trails,” said Susan Cross, Snowmass mountain manager, noting that it seems similar to the spring “uphilling craze” and has been a good mix of experts, beginners and people looking to up their skills by taking private lessons and clinics. “We went in with no idea what to expect and then Sunday was hopping, signaling to us that yeah, it’s summer in Snowmass.”

In the week-and-a-half since opening day, Skico staff like Cross said the on-mountain traffic, namely mountain bikers, has kept steady.

Although most summer activities at Snowmass will be open to the public this summer, Cross said they’ll be accessible a little differently than in years past because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Only two people are allowed on the Elk Camp chairlift and gondola (unless there are families of more than two), all people are required to wear face coverings to upload and download (full face bike helmets don’t count as a face covering), and Skico staff will constantly clean and sanitize all on-mountain equipment each day, Cross said.

She also mentioned that while the Tuesday bike park nights and local race series are still on, the farm-to-table dinners will not be a part of them. Instead, Skico is calling the weekly event “Snowmass Bonus Nights,” which will feature evening access to the bike park and Lost Forest, food and beverage options at the Elk Camp restaurant and extended gondola hours (last ride up at 7:30 p.m.; last ride down at 8:30 p.m. No charge for the gondola after 5 p.m.).

“We’re looking at keeping things ‘business as usual’ as much as possible by offering biking and the activities at the Lost Forest,” Cross said, though she mentioned the zip line and canopy tours are not open as of end of June. “But the only way we can ensure everybody’s safety and can stay open is if we all work together.”

Craig Chalmers, year-round patrol director at Snowmass, expressed similar thoughts.

Chalmers, who has been on ski patrol for 19 years and on bike patrol for 16, said there have been more people than he anticipated utilizing the Snowmass Bike Park trails, and that patrol operations have greatly shifted to better protect staff and account for the unique summer season while still providing the same level of care to on-mountain recreationists.

For example, Chalmers said this year’s daily patrol staff numbers are a little leaner than in years past, and that all patrollers are wearing N95 masks when responding to injuries.

If the injury is serious and the person needs to be transported, Chalmers said patrol staff has a strict safety protocol to follow. If the injury is minor, patrollers are handing out wound care materials for self-administered treatment versus cleaning up cuts and bumps for people themselves.

So far, bike patrol staff has seen about the same number of early season injuries as in years past, Chalmers said. The team is focused on educating recreators on new mask wearing and social distancing protocols to ensure everyone remains safe and healthy, and is happy to see so many people getting outside and on the mountain.

“Overall the first week has been great and I think it’s been busier than we anticipated,” Chalmers said. “We are doing what we can to operate a business during a pretty interesting time. … It’s a different experience but the bike riding has been great.”

When asked how Chalmers and Cross are working to keep morale up among staff as they head into an uncertain summer season, the Skico officials said employees seem in good spirits about returning to work and seeing so many people at Snowmass, and hope locals and visitors will cooperate with the rules in place to keep everyone safe.

“We started out with a good week and had another good weekend which helps with morale,” Cross said. “We just want everyone to know we’re open, so come out and enjoy but take some responsibility for your safety and the safety of everyone else.”