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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Skiers Flock To Breckenridge’s Opening Day, Despite Virus Surge

A crowd of skiers stand in line behind yellow 'Wait Here' signs, with ski lifts in the background.
Matt Bloom
Skiers wait in line at Breckenridge Ski Resort's Peak 8 base area on Friday, Nov. 13.

Breckenridge Ski Resort opened its slopes to skiers and snowboarders on Friday, drawing large crowds even as Colorado’s COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations climbed to record levels.

Hundreds lined up to ride the resort’s gondolas and lifts. Resort staff stressed mask-wearing and social distancing around the sprawling mountain property, which was shut down early last season as the pandemic first took hold.

“We knew we’d still be dealing with COVID-19 throughout the winter season and that would include rises and declines in cases,” said Sara Lococo, a spokeswoman for the resort. “We really tried to set ourselves up with protocols we can keep consistent through the season even as cases ebb and flow.”

To try to control crowd sizes, skiing will be by reservation only, Lococo said. Indoor dining is also reservation-based. On lifts, skiers from different households will be spaced at least one chair apart.

The resort did not say exactly how many reservations were made on opening day.

On Friday, people from around the country came to make the most of two feet of fresh snowfall.

Crystal Opara smiled as she posed for a photo in the snow. She and her husband, K.C., traveled to the resort from Texas to celebrate their honeymoon.

The pair said they appreciated the dozens of signs reminding visitors to wear masks and other safety measures the resort put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“They’re okay, it just depends where you are,” Crystal said. “It’s kind of hard (to social distance) in this environment. But it looks like everyone is wearing their masks for the most part, so that’s cool.”

Nick Jones, a Breckenridge resident who skis around 100 days a year, said the new safety measures were unusual, but easy to adapt to.

“End of the day, we’re still snowboarding and skiing so I can’t really complain,” Jones said. “Hopefully it stays open.”

The resort’s opening day came as elected officials and local public health departments urged Colorado residents to reduce their social interactions. Colorado saw 5,689 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, its highest daily number since the pandemic began.

In a news conference on Friday, Polis called the current period of the pandemic some of the “darkest days we’ve had as a state and nation.”

“We need to do better,” Polis said.

A skiier walks past a blue sign that says 'be safe together' and instructs people to stay six feet apart.
Matt Bloom / KUNC
A sign at Breckenridge Ski Resort urges visitors to practice social distancing.

Breckenridge is just one of dozens of Colorado ski resorts moving forward with opening plans this month. Several have delayed their opening dates due to a variety of factors, including insufficient snowfall, wildfire damage or evolving public health restrictions.

The industry took a major hit in March, when most areas were forced to end their seasons early.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, a trade group, U.S. resorts saw annual visitation drop 14% last season because of the pandemic. The lost revenue added up to around $2 billion nationwide, the NSAA said. The group projects losses could total $5 billion by the end of the upcoming winter season.

Colorado resorts see more than 7 million visitors each year, according to Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade group. Most skiers come from out of state.

Prior to reopening, resorts worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create a set of industry-wide best practices. Last month, the agency released the list, regulating everything from parking procedures to warming spaces and ski school.

Sara Lococo said Breckenridge would do everything it could to keep guests safe.

“We all want to see this season to be successful,” Lococo said. “We have the framework in place, but it’s going to take everyone adhering to the new protocols and focusing on those new safety rules.”

An updated list of resort reopenings is available on Colorado Ski Country USA’s website.

I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
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