Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Colorado is known for, among other things, the length of its season. Its base elevation, 3200 meters, higher than most other ski resorts, allows it to run in June.
“Spring is some of the best days at A-Basin,” said one snowboarder. “Don’t even need to wear full gear.”
But, like everywhere, this year has been different. Resorts all over the country were ordered shut down when stay at home orders went into effect in March, just as college spring break, always good for business, was getting underway. Last week, with the blessing of authorities, A-Basin finally reopened.
“We really wanted to reintegrate ourselves into the economy, into the community, bring some people back to work,” said Katherine Fuller, A-Basin Spokesperson.
She said employee pay and benefits were extended for some staff during the closure but seasonal workers were laid off earlier than anyone would have liked.
“One of the reasons I moved here was to snowboard more so first season gets cut short, it’s kind of a bummer,” said one boarder.
“I didn’t think there was any hope for the rest of the season so yeah very glad to be back,” said a skier.
This already socially distanced sport is now even more so, beginning with the lift tickets.
“We’re not scanning everybody at the lift,” Fuller said. “You do have to make a reservation to come. We’re only accepting 600 people a day… We’ve also got markings all over to help with physical distancing, to keep people six feet apart. You know thankfully the length of skis and snowboards kind of does that anyway.”
As befitting these pandemic times, the chairlift experience is a solitary one, unless you’re skiing with family.
And the famous A-Basin Beach, where skiers have long congregated at the end of the day, has been shuttered, at least for the time being.
“It’s a little different now,” said a snowboarder. “But it’s okay, we still get to ride.”
Still up in the air is how the ski industry, which generates $5 billion in economic activity each year in Colorado, will manage to ride out the pandemic.
“They only make money if they have a lot of people,” said Jack Strauss, who teaches at the University of Denver Daniels College of Business. He expects consumers to be cautious going into the upcoming season.
“Families will I think think twice about buying a week pass for Christmas or a week after Thanksgiving because of this uncertainty,” Strauss said.
Fuller said this brief reopening is a dry run of sorts for how A-Basin will operate in the near future.
“We’re definitely going to make improvements, make corrections,” she said. “We’re gonna a lot from this experience.”
As will other resorts accustomed to this industry’s ups and downs. The coronavirus is yet another hill to conquer.
“Hope we get control of this thing and figure it all out you know,” said a skier. “I think everybody does.”