Vail closes its ski resorts while others opt to remain open

As ski resorts across the United States grappled with how to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus without having to close, industry giant Vail Resorts decided Saturday it would shutter all of its North American resorts for at least one week

SALT LAKE CITY -- As ski resorts across the United States grappled with how to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus without having to close, industry giant Vail Resorts decided Saturday it would shutter all of its North American resorts for at least one week.

After earlier in the day announcing their resorts would remain open with added measures to prevent the spread of the virus, Vail Resorts changed course and said it would shut down 34 resorts starting Sunday through March 22 before reassessing, according to the company's news release.

The company's ski areas include Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado; Park City Mountain Resort in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Stowe Mountain in Vermont; and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada.

“This decision provides a pause for the entire ecosystem of our mountain resort communities," company CEO Rob Katz said in the online post. “It gives everyone the time to assess the situation, respond to ever-changing developments, and evaluate the approach for the rest of season, if we believe it is advisable or feasible to re-open.”

Katz apologized for the short notice and especially to guests already at the resorts or planning to come this week. He acknowleged it may seem confusing considering the company's earlier announcements but called it a fast-moving situation with new information coming by the hour.

Vail joined a few other small resorts that had already made the decision to close, including Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, Jay Peak Resort in Vermont and Shanty Creek Resort in Michigan. Taos will close for the season starting March 22 while Jay Peak and Shanty are closing for the season starting this weekend.

Most resorts stay open until around mid-April each season depending on snow conditions.

Other resorts that remain open are closing enclosed gondolas or aerial trams while others are encouraging skiers to ride lifts with only people they know as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Nearly every resort is promising extra cleanings of public spaces, more hand sanitizer stations and vowing to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A few resorts, including

Still, some ski resorts are touting the popular winter activity as a relatively safe option for diversion as concerts, sporting events and museums close.

“Skiers are pretty well covered from head-to-toe and being outdoors, the contamination factor is minimized,” said Tom Watkinson, spokesman for Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado.

Snowbird resort in Utah said it will close its aerial tram but stay open. It explained in an online post that skiing is “beneficial for the soul to live and enjoy the adventure lifestyle—and this is particularly the case in times like this, when anxiety and stress are high.”

Avid back-country skier Michele Dauber strongly believes that resorts should be shut down to contain the spread of the virus.

“This is why Disneyland closed. This is why cruises don't make sense. A ski resort is just a cruise ship in the snow,” said Dauber, who has a house in the Bear Valley area in California and is a professor at Stanford University. “People are just constantly wiping their noses and they're wearing gloves so hand sanitizer isn't the issue."

Steve Clawson, a 57-year-old controller for the Denver Public Schools, went skiing for about six hours at Vail on Saturday. His plan was to head over to Breckenridge on Sunday. But as he made his way to the parking lot, his wife called and informed him of the news from Vail Resorts.

He was bummed his ski plans got dashed, but he understood.

“We all need to do what we need to do to help prevent the spread,” said Clawson, who canceled an upcoming trip to Las Vegas because of concerns over the virus. “Everybody is taking a hit. Vail needs to take a hit, too, and I guess I need to take the hit of not being able to ski. I'm OK with that.”

He added: “We have to look out for our medical professionals. If we're not stopping the spread, our hospitals are going to be inundated.”

In Washington — the hardest hit state in the United States — the Crystal Mountain ski resort southeast of Seattle remained open with all lifts except a gondola operating. But the resort has closed restaurants and indoor seating, encouraging people to bring their own lunch and eat outside or in their cars.

A bartender in the Utah ski town of Park City tested positive for coronavirus, Utah state health officials said Saturday. A county health official said he would not recommend shutting down the nearby resorts, but cautioned against traveling to the area. One of Colorado's first cases was a man in his 30s visiting Colorado on a ski vacation.

The coronavirus, deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization, infected more than 150,000 people and killed over 5,700. The disease for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority recover.

Jackson Hole in Wyoming closed its aerial tram and limited the number of people in gondolas. Mammoth in California said it planned to keep its gondolas half full and get rid of some chairs and tables in lodges to keep guests a safe distance apart. Powder Mountain in Utah ceased snowcat skiing because of tight quarters inside the vehicles.

Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort near Lake Placid in New York has closed its gondola and is limiting how many people are on lifts. The resort is also allowing only half the amount of people normally allowed at indoor facilities.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard organization said Thursday all upcoming competitions in the United States had been canceled.

Resorts social media accounts were a mix of news about measures being taken to address the coronavirus and happy pictures and videos of skiers carving through fresh snow.

Powder Mountain in Utah posted a picture of a small group of skiers in lift line surrounded by pristine snow-capped trees and mountains around him with the caption: “Good morning and happy Saturday from Powder Mountain! Get outside and take advantage of the remaining winter days."

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Graham reported from Denver.

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