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Opinion: An open letter to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis about closing ski resorts

Dear Gov. Jared Polis: I voted for you in 2018 over that troglodyte Republican (whose name I’ve already forgotten) that you crushed, and would vote for you again 100 times out of 100.

You seem capable and rational — nice qualities for a leader in the executive branch of government. Still, I wonder if you were premature in shutting down all Colorado ski areas on Saturday. 

I live in Telluride, and personally enrich myself each and every year from the incredible, beautiful bounty of Colorado skiing. I understand and empathize with some of your coronavirus-related bans.

Rob Story (Provided by Rob Story)

Folks like me with dangerous habits should rightly be banned from traveling to Grand Junction, where I might indulge my darkest urges, and lick all the pay phones at the bus depot. 

But shutting down Colorado’s ski resorts is another matter entirely.

A couple years ago, Telluride’s excellent public library issued a bumper sticker declaring: Came for the Skiing, Stayed for the Library.

This year, an adhesive decal response began appearing: Came for the Skiing, Stayed for the Skiing. 

Gov. Polis, I hope you fully considered the nature of skiing and its vital importance in our state before issuing the ban. Couldn’t you have just shut down ski schools and on-mountain eateries while still allowing open-air chairlifts to operate? So long as every chair was a single, and social-distancing was easily achieved?

You’d have a grateful populace — almost all of them wearing gloves, and many covering their faces — while avoiding indoors clusters. Yes, I’m aware of the counter argument that skiers and snowboarders would still require on-slope bathrooms. OK.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

But aren’t restrooms exactly the best places to wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds — you know, the one, single practice epidemiologists insist can save us from a nefarious pandemic?

Of course, everyone in Colorado understands the decision to shut down ski areas. No doubt, you considered all the financial ramifications of an accelerated outbreak — not to mention the political fallout of under-reacting to a public health crisis. Had you kept ski areas open, one additional high country case of COVID-19 might have barbecued your career. 

Still, I hope you gave your draconian decision all due consideration. Again: skiing at heart is an outdoors sport occurring in eminently fresh air; a sport where social-distancing is almost an automatic. What’s more, no other Colorado activity is as aligned with, and conscious of, medical practices.

I firmly believe the finely trained experts on Colorado’s ski patrols — all of them masters of emergency protocol — could have kept outbreaks under control. For decades, our state’s patrollers have stood guard against evil and despair as admirably as Canada’s Mounties.

Colorado is a state of immigrants, many of whom moved here for the mountains, despite their shameful three-month growing seasons and bone-breaking icy sidewalks. We might not all be born as “mountain people,” but we revere Colorado because the mountains speak to our souls so deeply.

And skiing can convert a flatlander from Kansas City (like myself) or Texas (like The Colorado Sun’s Jason Blevins) into the most ardent defenders of mountains. And in that conversion, mountains come to define our very existence. I really think it’s impossible to overstate how important mountains and skiing are to a true Coloradan.

In a normal year, skiing generates more than $5 billion in economic impact for Colorado. You knew that, of course. But did you truly consider how much skiing matters in the soul of Coloradans? Sliding down snow is in our blood. 

Your biography on Wikipedia mentions nothing about skiing — only your affection for the Denver Broncos (which is, frankly, your problem). Did you consider that skiing is, for many constituents, our main reason to go on living? 

Yes, circumstances forced your hand, and you had no choice but to shut down resorts. Don’t neglect skiers and skiing, though. Gov. Polis, don’t you even dare consider shutting down Colorado’s magnificent backcountry. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to issue economic relief discounting alpine-touring gear for the disenfranchised. 

Sincerely, 

Rob Story, a Colorado skier in Telluride

Adventure journalist Rob Story has lived in Telluride for more than 25 years, writing for Skiing, Powder, Outside, Esquire and more. 

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