Updated at April 30, 2020, at 11:28 p.m.: Gov. Jared Polis orders Colorado ski areas closed until at least May 23.
Davey Pitcher wants to open Wolf Creek ski area this weekend.
His limited opening plan won unanimous approval from boards of county commissioners in Archuleta, Rio Grande and Mineral counties. He got approval from the Silver Thread Health Department, local hospitals and ambulance services. The Forest Service gave him the OK. He surveyed more than 300 of his passholders and all but two embraced his plan.
Pitcher is ready to roll out a limited opening after Gov. Jared Polis’ strict stay-at-home order expires Thursday. He has rules to limit crowding and will cap the number of skiers at a tenth of the remote southern Colorado ski area’s capacity.
“But now there’s some other moving, shrinking, fiery hoop for us to jump through,” the longtime owner of Wolf Creek says.
The problem is Gov. Polis’ new safer-at-home order, which on Friday replaces earlier orders, limits travel for recreation to 10 miles. Everyone who comes to the ski area atop Wolf Creek Pass between South Fork and Pagosa Springs must travel more than 10 miles.
“I’m fed up man,” he said Thursday after filing for a variance with the state seeking a waiver from the 10-mile rule. “I’m disappointed there is no empathy, there is no consistency in this stay-at-home order. Contractors are busy building houses. Police are busy writing tickets. All the stores are open. No one here is wearing masks. I mean Jiminy Christmas, the local hardware story has a popcorn machine that everyone is reaching into.”
Pitcher wants to obey the law, he says. He shut down his ski area on March 15 after receiving Polis’s order to close all ski resorts at 8:48 p.m. on March 14. He’d just spent hours with a group of visitors fitting them with rental ski equipment and selling them lift tickets when the order landed in his email inbox. He has issues with the lack of early notice, but he complied with the closure.
His family spent a week delivering 100,000 pounds of food to local food banks across southern Colorado. During the downtime, he watched his snowpack ebb. But he has enough for a May opening and he crafted a plan.
No more than 500 passholders. Day tickets are capped at 120. All skiers need to make online reservations 24-hours in advance to secure their spot on the hill. Parking and lift lines are spaced to prevent crowding. Masks are mandatory. Lift lines would be spaced. He’s not offering food service. Decks are closed. He’s idled all his shuttle buses. He’s even described the cleaning fluid his team will use in the restrooms every hour (1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water.)
Pitcher wonders if his “gold standard” is enough for the governor
“We’ve done our due diligence,” said Pitcher, who was told by the state that his request for a variance would take three days. “It’s a good plan that everyone has agreed to. I developed a plan that we all thought would be the gold standard, showing the governor that it’s not about profit but just about getting people outside doing what they love in Colorado. The governor said last week he would turn over decision-making to counties and everyone here was really excited about that.”
He added: “I don’t think a variance for a waiver should take three days to review. It should take a five-minute phone call.”
Pitcher’s plan also includes a guarantee to shut down if health officials in nearby Mineral, Archuleta and Rio Grande counties have any concerns or see an uptick in COVID-19 cases. (The latest state data show 17 cases across the three counties.)
“And still we have to go through these bureaucratic hoops. Today, it just feels intentional. It feels like the state health department is intentionally dragging its heels, trying to make it so we can’t ski this weekend,” Pitcher said.
A request for comment from Polis’ office was not returned.
The Colorado Sun has no paywall, meaning readers do not have to pay to access stories. We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable.
This reporting depends on support from readers like you. For just $5/month, you can invest in an informed community.