Summit County ski area capacities to be reduced starting Wednesday
DILLON — Ski area capacity will be further reduced as a result of Summit County’s move to level red on the state’s COVID-19 dial.
The county’s latest public health order, which was issued Friday, Nov. 20, requires Summit County ski areas — including Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort — to work with the local public health agency to further reduce their daily capacities, which already were reduced in each ski area’s existing COVID-19 operating plan.
County Manager Scott Vargo said the capacities would be set by public health Tuesday, Nov. 24, and take effect Wednesday, Nov. 25.
The county has not shared specific capacity limits at ski areas.
Ski areas consider skier visits to be proprietary, and the county has cited public records law language that protects trade secrets.
On Tuesday morning, Vargo said the county has had conversations with officials at each resort to identify ways to adjust capacity. That limit could come in the form of a percentage of overall guests or a numerical reduction, such as a specific number of guests that are allowed each day.
Vargo said the driving factor behind reducing the resorts’ capacities is the current level red designation, which prohibits indoor dining and limits gathering sizes.
“There are some changes in terms of how those resorts are operating now because of level red, and in the same regard, our community is operating in a different way … so I think what we’re hoping to see as a result of all of this is fewer people in the community to the point where we can manage those folks that are here,” Vargo said.
Public Health Director Amy Wineland said during Tuesday’s Board of Health meeting that with nearly every industry in the community being affected by level red capacity limits, the county felt it was important for ski resorts to be included.
“We are suggesting decreased capacity in a meaningful way for each (ski area),” Wineland said.
Summit County Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott said the county had to move quickly on the new capacities and implementation to minimize coronavirus spread.
“We can’t, unfortunately, afford to have the time that we usually have for making changes and such, or we’d miss the boat on reducing cases and (preserving) hospital capacity,” Hendershott said.
As for future adjustments to capacity, Hendershott said the ski area operating plans give the county the ability to adjust capacity if the public health department feels it’s necessary but that the county tries not to change the numbers unless health officials feel there’s a real need.
“We’re in a dire need to adjust our COVID cases, and that’s why we’re asking for reduced capacities,” Hendershott said.
The county is currently one step away from level purple, which is a stay-at-home order and would close most in-person operations of restaurants, gyms and retail establishments. However, ski areas are not addressed in the state’s COVID-19 dial framework, and Hendershott said there is not yet a solid plan for what would happen under level purple. He said there are ongoing discussions on the issue across the state and that the decision might be up to the state rather than the county.
In response to the county’s reduced capacity request, Copper will manage capacity by requiring parking reservations and advanced bookings, spokesperson Taylor Prather wrote in an email. She added that there will be active management of parking reservations and lift ticket inventory. Prather said the resort delayed its opening in part to allow for additional terrain, and therefore physical distancing, when the season kicks off. The resort expects to open Monday, Nov. 30, with nine lifts and 14 trails.
“We’re prepared to scale our operations as needed given the extremely dynamic situation and the changing county designations and corresponding regulations,” Prather wrote.
A-Basin Chief Operating Officer Alan Henceroth wrote in a text message that the ski area would submit an addendum to its operating plan Tuesday evening. Breckenridge spokesperson Sara Lococo wrote in an email that Keystone and Breckenridge have adjusted on-mountain dining to grab-and-go and outdoor seating only in order to comply with level red restrictions. She added that the resorts will adhere to any capacity limit changes.
Hendershott noted that legal staff at ski resorts have identified specific capacity limits as protected trade secrets. Vargo explained that as publicly traded organizations, key metrics around ski resort’s finances and business activities are protected as proprietary or confidential. Visitation data is one of those metrics.
Lococo echoed Vargo, writing in an email that the resorts do not disclose skier visit numbers or certain business metrics that are considered proprietary.
Vargo said sharing capacity information could put the county in hot water by releasing information not subject to open records laws.
However, the county has said each resort’s “comfortable carrying capacities,” which are outlined in their master plans, were used to determine reduced capacities. Those carrying capacities are: 14,920 guests per day at Breckenridge, 3,780 at A-Basin, 11,870 at Copper and 12,110 at Keystone. Those figures are not limits, and Hendershott previously explained that ski areas frequently exceed carrying capacity during a normal season.
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