Tourism, Skico officials plan for winter amid the pandemic in Snowmass |

Tourism, Skico officials plan for winter amid the pandemic in Snowmass

Skiers make turns during Snowmass Ski Area's opening day on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (Austin Colbert/Snowmass Sun)
Austin Colbert

At the start of the summer 2020 season, Snowmass Tourism committed 100% to one of the only things the department could amid the coronavirus pandemic: shifting and pivoting its events and marketing strategies to align with public health orders and ensure locals and visitors had fun and stayed healthy.

Now roughly five months later as the town shifts its focus from summer to winter while the COVID-19 crisis continues, that spirit of shifting, pivoting and reimagining staple village events and offerings in a more socially distanced way continues as Snowmass prepares for its biggest tourism season of the year.

“I think everyone at the town and frankly all Snowmass stakeholders are shifting continuously to accommodate our evolving reality. There are still so many unknowns,” said Rose Abello, Snowmass Tourism director. “I think all of us, not just visitors, are going to need to learn how to Snowmass in a new and different way this (winter), which really involves a lot of things.”

On a recent morning, Abello went through the various ideas and programming Snowmass Tourism is working through for the upcoming winter season. She said one of the major guiding goals is to provide more opportunities for locals and visitors to experience Snowmass Village without having to ride a lift or interact with others in large numbers.

Some of those opportunities and planned reoccurring events include ice sculpture demonstrations on the mall and in the Base Village area, with the sculptures on display for most of the winter season; daily winter hiking tours with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies from the mall area; a winter edition of the Snowmass Mountain Mission virtual scavenger hunt launched over the summer with prizes available for top participants; live music; and potentially both a 10-week light installation throughout the village with a few moving parts and more fireworks shows than usual over the winter season.

Tourism officials also are looking at how best to partner with restaurants and retailers to accommodate more outside apres seating this winter, how to help create a centralized food delivery system, and are even in the process of creating a new s’mores-inspired treat that will be individually packaged and handed out to locals and guests each afternoon, taking the place of the daily apres free s’mores roasting on the Snowmass Mall and in Base Village.

“As we develop our plan for this winter, we are looking to create more smaller activations and self-guided experiences,” Abello said. “We’re trying to make sure that we create more opportunities for people to do things that don’t require them to ride a lift.”

Outside of Snowmass Tourism efforts, other off-mountain winter plans and activities in Snowmass include weekly chess, bingo and comedy nights, live music, educational talks and community art activations at The Collective, free daily ice skating on the Base Village rink and the continuation of Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s “sculpturally distanced” exhibit through September 2021, according to a town news release. Both the Jus Snowmass and GG’s Market locations in Base Village also are set to open this winter, the release says.

On the mountain, Aspen Skiing Co. is taking a similar “shift and pivot” approach, looking at how to expand its summer COVID-19 safety operations to winter, space people out more as they wait in lines and limit public access to the Snowmass Ski Patrol warming huts, revise its Friday Ullr Nights to limit capacity and space out people, and continue its ambassador program in a safe way, according to Susan Cross, mountain manager at Snowmass.

“We had a great summer because the employees bought into everything and did what they needed to do to keep themselves safe, and our guests were great because for the most part they complied with face coverings and distancing,” Cross said. “Translating that over to winter, if everybody plays their part in all of this we should be successful and knowing that things will be different, we’re going to do the best we can to get open and stay open, to keep our staff safe and our guests safe. … We want people to be prepared for changes but to come out and enjoy what we have on the mountain.”

Cross went on to say that Snowmass mountain staff are just over two weeks away from starting up snowmaking, which will be expanded this year with the addition of new automated, more energy efficient snowguns that will cover roughly 28 acres with snow on the Lodgepole and Lunkerville runs.

Installation of the new six-passenger, high-speed Big Burn lift at Snowmass also is nearing completion, with chairs set to go on this week — a $10.8 million summer project Cross said has gone seamlessly.

“Other resorts held off on installing new lifts, which was to our advantage because we were able to get all of the equipment and new parts and pieces pretty much on schedule throughout the whole summer,” Cross said. “Normally you’re scrambling at the end to get it done so it’s been amazing and super successful.”

On top of an improved lift, Snowmass also will debut a reimagined High Alpine restaurant this winter that aims to keep the legacy of Gwyn’s High Alpine alive, and new Alpin Room restaurant in the same building that will feature French, Swiss and Austrian Alps-inspired eats, as previously reported.

While a lot about the upcoming winter is in the works or remains uncertain, Cross and Abello said spirits seem high as Snowmass comes off a relatively successful summer amid the pandemic, all things considering.

“I feel the community, and I mean the whole community, really pulled off a somewhat vibrant and ‘safe’ summer in a way that businesses could succeed and manage within the current conditions,” Abello said.

And for Abello and her staff, they are dedicated to continue working to help support locals and their businesses succeed this winter as the pandemic continues in whatever way best serves the whole community, she said.

“We want to make sure that everything that we’re doing is working for the community and working for our stakeholders, especially the small businesses. We know how important our actions and our marketing are for their success,” Abello said of Snowmass Tourism. “We want to do things for them, not to them, so we want feedback. We want to hear from people on what will work best for them.”