Mar 12, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Jon Lamson | Photo by Maren Greene

For many members of the Colorado College community, skiing this winter has proved to be an invaluable distraction from the ongoing global pandemic. After a mandated closure last spring from Gov. Jared Polis, resorts have largely remained open throughout this winter, though at reduced capacities with various COVID-19 precautions in place.

The salvaged season, however, has not been without its consequences.

Counties in Colorado’s ski corridor have had disproportionately high per-capita rates of COVID-19 compared to the rest of the state. The very first COVID-19 patient identified in Colorado (just over a year ago) was an out-of-state visitor to both Keystone and Vail resorts.

The most recent COVID-19 outbreak weekly report (March 3) shows active investigations into outbreaks at or in facilities associated with Breckenridge, Keystone, Monarch Mountain, Steamboat, Vail, and Winter Park.

Notably, 162 Winter Park staff members contracted COVID-19 in a January outbreak at the resort. In one separate January incident at Monarch Mountain, 17 staff came down with the virus. It is unclear how many visitors to the resorts contracted the virus from these outbreaks.

Even as COVID-19 cases plateau in Colorado, the threat of the virus remains very real. New variants brought in from out of state have been increasing — there are now 190 “variants of concern” in Colorado, according to state data. A variant of concern is defined as “a variant that may spread easier, cause more severe disease, reduce the effectiveness of treatments or vaccine, or is harder to detect using current tests.”

Just this week, the state detected its first cases of the B.1.351 variant, a version of the virus first found in South Africa believed to be especially easily transmitted.

As of March 9, 18% of Colorado’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, with many of these vaccines going to older and more vulnerable individuals, it is clear that the vast majority of people visiting ski towns and resorts have yet to be fully vaccinated.

According to a number of students who have spent time skiing different Colorado resorts this winter, while various issues have arisen around resorts all over, Winter Park has earned a particularly bad reputation for COVID-19 safety.

“At Winter Park, a lot of times I’ve seen people walking around without masks and nobody really cares,” William Schwindenhammer ’23 said. “When at Copper [Mountain], I’ve heard people yell ‘pull up your mask, we’re not Winter Park!’”

Schwindenhammer thinks much of the responsibility falls on the tourists and visitors to these ski towns, noting that many of the locals seem to be taking the virus seriously, while visitors often fail to follow mask and social distancing guidelines, taking less care to protect the mountain communities their actions are affecting.

Though some aspects of COVID-19 safety at ski mountains seem to have improved over the course of the winter, “earlier in the season it wouldn’t be uncommon to wait 20 to 30 minutes in line,” said Schwindenhammer. “It was sort of ridiculous that they allowed that many people to come.”

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