Colorado skiers, snowboarders considering skipping the slopes this winter, survey says

Safety first

Ross Leonhart
Vail Daily
A skier makes some turns through the powder under the Big Burn Lift at Snowmass Ski Area.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Magellan Strategies asked 788 adult Colorado skiers and snowboarders questions from Nov. 10-16, via text, including: “Are you or your family considering not skiing or snowboarding at all this season because of the coronavirus?”

Thirty-one percent of participants in the survey responded “yes,” they were considering not hitting the slopes this year, with 14% “strongly considering” and 17% “somewhat considering.”

Of the Coloradans interviewed in the survey, boasting a 95% confidence level, 59% had purchased a ski pass for the season — 31% buying the Epic Pass versus 22% buying the Ikon Pass (and 6% purchasing both). Survey takers were 65% skiers, 26% snowboarders and 8% that do both equally.

Thirty-eight percent of survey takers 65 and older answered “yes,” they were considering not skiing or snowboarding this season because of COVID-19. Fourty-two percent of people on the Front Range also answered “yes” to the same question.

The survey’s major takeaways for reasons that participants said they may not ski or snowboard this winter include “Risk from others not following guidelines,” “frustration with reservation systems” and “money is tight/not worth the money.”

“The risk of potentially getting COVID is biggest reason but also the experience of the mountain I feel won’t be the same,” a female survey taker from Arapahoe County answered.

When asked how familiar they were with the updated ski resort procedures and protocols, 23% said they were very familiar, 37% said they were somewhat familiar, 22% said not too familiar and 17% said they were not familiar at all.

Regardless of survey takers’ familiarity with the new rules, they were asked about their confidence in ski areas staying safe. Nearly 70% are very confident or somewhat confident, with 11% not confident at all.

The survey also finds trust in elected officials to make the right decisions, with 62% trusting and 31% not having trust.

Suggested safety procedures from survey takers to inspire trust include a focus on lodges, gondolas, restaurants, bathrooms, face coverings and limits. The major themes related to safety procedure concerns are “social distancing,” “mandatory face masks, “only friends and family together” and “strict enforcement of the guidelines.”

At Vail Mountain and other Vail Resorts locations, social distancing markers are set up and employees are polite and diligent in reminding skiers and snowboarders in lines to stay safely apart, and keep their masks on, which is another mandate when on the mountain. Lift lines are separated and not always filled to accommodate keeping same households together. On the mountain and in the villages of Vail and Beaver Creek, resort staff as well as locals are enforcing, and educating, on the new rules.

“Our goal is to open and stay open,” said John Plack, senior communications manager for Vail and Beaver Creek, on Vail’s Opening Day. “That’s the most important thing for us and for everyone here in the Vail Valley.”

A view of the Born Free run on Vail Mountain on Nov. 30, 2020. On Friday, Vail Mountain announced the opening of Game Creek Bowl, expanding its available terrain.

Outside of Colorado

While some Colorado skiers and snowboarders seem to be on the fence about hitting the slopes this winter, there are longtime visitors who are itching to get back.

Paul and Karen Richards, of the United Kingdom, were looking forward to celebrating their 20th season visiting Vail. Due to travel restrictions, the couple has canceled their annual trip.

“Part of the reason me and my wife keep coming back to Vail is because of the people. That’s one of the main reasons,” Paul said. “All of the staff whatever store or wherever you go, they’re all so friendly. Everybody’s there to help you.”

Due to COVID-19, the Richards family canceled their 20th annual trip to Vail. They stay in the same room at the same hotel every year and have already made their reservations for next winter.

When the Richards called The Lodge at Vail, where they always stay in the same room every year, they were met with understanding. Their trip was simply moved back a year and is already on the books for next winter — in the same room.

“They’ve looked after us very, very well,” Paul said.

The Richards are looking forward to getting back to their Friday night tradition in Vail, posting up at The Red Lion on Bridge Street for some drinks, live music and après stories. They’re also big fans of Henry’s Café in Edwards.

“Love that place,” Paul said. “Only the locals know about it.”

For families like the Richards, the 2020-21 winter is chalked up as a scratch, with things hopefully getting back on track next winter.

“There will be some people happy the British aren’t coming this year,” Paul said, laughing. “I don’t go to Vail to be surrounded by British people. I go to experience the culture.

“The years I’ve been going I feel a little bit of a local,” he added. “It feels like home.”

In Minnesota, Chris Knoop has about 10 days at Afton Alps, another Vail Resorts mountain. Knoop has been coming to Colorado for 12 years, but with he and his wife working in health care, they are staying put for the time being with hopes of coming to Colorado later in the season.

“It felt so good to do something normal,” Knoop said of his days on the slopes already, usually with his children.

However, the lack of snow in Colorado also played into his decision to put off his annual trip to Breckenridge.

“To be honest, if there’s no COVID, I’d still be going,” he said. “But I don’t want to be out there with COVID and be able to just ski a couple runs.”

On Friday, Vail opened Game Creek Bowl as it continues to expand its terrain ahead of Christmas.

“It does seem that Vail is taking COVID the most serious, which I think is a good thing,” Knoop said. “The more serious they take it, the less likely it will shut down. That’s the last thing the ski industry needs is a shutdown.”

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