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Vail Resorts, Aspen, Steamboat, Winter Park and others shut down their ski areas in response to coronavirus

Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co. announced the closure of more than 45 North American ski areas on Saturday. The two largest operators were followed by several other ski areas, including Aspen Snowmass, Telluride, Arapahoe Basin, Loveland and the 10th Mountain Hut Association.

Skiers make tracks at Vail Mountain on December 18, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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VAIL — Vail Resorts chief Rob Katz on Saturday made the unprecedented decision to close all of the company’s North American ski resorts and stores, effective immediately, in response to the new coronavirus.

Within an hour of Katz’s announcement, Steamboat and Winter Park resorts followed suit as Alterra Mountain Company announced the shuttering its 15 North American locations. Canadian Mountain Holidays, Alterra’s heli-skiing operation, will remain open through Tuesday.

UPDATE AT 8:42 P.M.: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis orders all ski resorts to close in extraordinary move

Arapahoe Basin also announced it will close for an undetermined of time starting Sunday. Loveland ski area also announced a Sunday closure. Aspen Skiing Co. said it was “closing all ski operations, ancillary businesses (except Limelight Aspen) and canceling all events effective immediately.” Telluride ski area, too, said it will suspend operations starting Sunday. Same for Aspen Skiing Co.’s four Roaring Fork Valley ski areas.

The decisions come as there are at least 20 confirmed coronavirus cases in Eagle County — where Vail and Beaver Creek are located — and at least 11 more in Aspen.

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“This has no doubt been a challenging time,” Katz said in his public statement announcing the news Saturday at 4:40 p.m. 

The closure of Vail’s North American resorts — including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Crested Butte and Keystone — and more than 230 retail stores owned and operated by the sprawling company starts Sunday and will last through March 22. Katz said the company will use the week to “reassess our approach to the rest of the season.”

But as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis warned this week, the global pandemic of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, will get worse before it gets better. It’s highly unlikely that “better” will arrive by March 22.

Polis followed Vail’s announcement with one of his own, praising the resort giant for closing and urging other mountains and resorts to do the same. 

“Coloradans and our business community must continue to rise to meet the demand of these challenging times and everyone must do their part in stopping the spread of this virus,” Polis said.

Vail Resorts placed signs like this — seen Saturday on the door to the empty Talons eatery at Beaver Creek — across its network of ski areas. By the end of the day, the company announced the closure of its 37 North American ski areas. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

Katz said seasonal and full-time employees will be paid during the week of furlough. The company’s lodging will remain open for guests already on property and those with existing reservations, but the company will not take new reservations. The company’s Epic Mountain Express shuttle service in Colorado will continue to move guests. Vail Resorts’ corporate office in Broomfield will close. 

Alterra Mountain Company said its resorts are simply “closed until further notice.”

“I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this short notice will undoubtedly create. We look forward to welcoming you back to the mountains as circumstances improve,” Rusty Gregory, Alterra’s chief executive office, said in a written statement. The closures begin on Sunday.

The dominoes kept falling after Katz’s announcement. The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association late Saturday announced it was closing all 10 of the network’s huts and canceling all reservations for the rest of the season.

“At a time when the refuge of a backcountry hut seems most valuable, the securing of public safety forces us to exercise the full measure of our public obligation and close the huts,” reads the association’s statement.

Telluride ski area on Saturday tweeted that it “remains committed to staying open until April 5.” But then the resort announced it was closing, telling employees that Gov. Polis was “requiring all Colorado ski areas to close for the season effective immediately.” The town will leave the gondola open for pedestrian traffic.

The Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co. decisions close Utah’s Park City, Solitude and Deer Valley ski areas as well as California’s Mammoth, Squaw Alpine, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood resorts. Other Utah resorts followed suit on Saturday, including Alta and Eagle Point.

Katz, the Vail boss, directed skiers to the company’s website — vailresorts.com — for information about cancellations, refunds and travel credits. He said reservations for lift tickets, ski school and rental equipment will be fully refunded while the company has new credit policies in place for its lodging properties, which typically do not provide full refunds for cancellations within a week or two. 

MORE: A Crested Butte woman came home from Hawaii with sniffles. Then she found out it was coronavirus.

“This decision provides a pause for the entire ecosystem of our mountain resort communities,” Katz wrote. “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. This was not an easy decision to make, as we deeply considered the impact it will have on our guests, employees, and the people and businesses in our communities.”

Aspen Skiing Co. late Saturday its four Roaring Fork Valley ski areas were closing “by order of the governor of the State of Colorado.”

The company said it would close its ancillary businesses — like the Little Nell hotel and Limelight Snowmass hotel — by March 23 but the Limelight Aspen hotel would remain open. Aspen Skiing Co. said it would conduct limited on-mountain maintenance should the company be able to open portion of its ski areas later in the season. 

“We are all skiers at heart and we understand the therapeutic nature of our shared passion,” reads the Aspen Skiing Co. statement. “Extreme circumstances call for extreme actions, and we make this decision in coordination with our local and state health agencies.”

March is a big month for Vail Resorts, as Texans and New Yorkers flock for spring break. Last week the company withdrew its revenue projection for the 2019-20 season, which the company set at $778 million to $818 million heading into the season. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The company was losing steam even before the sweep of the coronavirus. Visits to its 37 ski areas were down 5.2% through March 1, while ski school revenue was up and retail, dining revenue declined. Lift ticket revenue was up less than 1%. 

The company’s fiscal 2020 second-quarter results noted that the decline in visitation through  February — driven by “challenging” trends in the Pacific Northwest and “modest” declines at its Colorado ski areas — had already pushed expected revenues for the year to be about “$20 million below the midpoint of the guidance range.” (Which, is a cloudy way to say the low-end of its $40 million range of protected revenue.) And that’s excluding any declines from the coronavirus, which appears ready to decimate the U.S. ski industry’s 2019-20 ski season. 

“These are unprecedented, challenging times for everyone,” Katz wrote. 


Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.


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