Vail Resorts: Uphill access closed at its Colorado ski resorts for safety
Locals have taken to the mountains to earn their turns since Vail and Beaver Creek shut down operations after lifts stopped spinning on March 14, but in a statement Friday, Vail Resorts issued a stern directive: Uphill access is closed.
“We continue to work closely with local officials to ensure the safety of our communities,” wrote John Plack, a Vail Resorts spokesman, in an email to the Vail Daily. “Given that there is no terrain risk mitigation and no ski patrol currently at our resorts, uphill traffic is unsafe for skiers, riders, those sledding and first responders. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation obeying posted closures.”
Vail Resorts operates five mountain resorts in Colorado: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte. A number of local residents have been taking to the closed resorts since Sunday, and Friday’s midday announcement from Vail Resorts drew swift criticism on social media from locals. The widely-held reasoning? Vail Resorts could close its lifts, but it couldn’t close U.S. Forest Service land.
Yes, that is true, but the situation is more nuanced than that, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
“This is a one in 100-year event we are dealing with here,” Fitzwilliams said. “We are not closing the national forest. They have a permit to operate that ski area, and what we are looking at is altering their operational permit to deal with this very unprecedented event.”
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At Cripple Creek Backcountry in Avon, owner Doug Stenclik said that shop has seen a serious boost in business. After a weekend rush, Stenclik said activity at the shop has calmed down — to mere Christmas-week levels.
Fresh snow overnight led a large number of backcountry enthusiasts to access local resorts on Friday, despite Vail Resorts’ directive.
Fitzwilliams noted that Gov. Jared Polis ordered a shutdown of Colorado ski resorts on March 14, after Vail Resorts announced it was closing its North American resorts, and Friday’s uphill access announcement represents compliance with that order.
“For the resorts to adhere to what the county and the state is asking them to do, which is to close down places where people congregate, is understandable,” Fitzwilliams said. “If they don’t do something, people will be congregating in huge crowds. If we can avoid that, we will all be better off.”
Fitzwilliams added that because the resorts are closed, conditions are not being monitored and managed. That means there are avalanche risks and other safety concerns.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center lists avalanche danger as “considerable” for the Vail/Summit County area for March 19 and 20. Center-speak, that means “Dangerous avalanche conditions. Cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential.” Also: With the Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas closed, Vail Resorts isn’t performing in-bounds avalanche mitigation. Check the current forecast at https://avalanche.state.co.us/.
Nate Peterson and Scott Miller contributed reporting on this story.