The Slopes Can Be Safe – If You Skip The Après-Ski Scene
Some of the Mountain West's COVID-19 hotspots have been, and continue to be, areas with major ski resorts.
One of the earliest hot spots in the pandemic was Blaine County, Idaho. That area surrounding the Sun Valley Ski Resort had one of the highest levels of COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation for a while.
Now, areas with the highest rates of the virus include Teton County, Wyo., home to Jackson, and Pitkin County, Colo., home to Aspen.
Officials in San Miguel County, Colo., which includes Telluride, say they've tracked the virus's spread, and it isn't coming from the slopes, the chairlifts or lift lines – it's from gatherings afterwards, or the après-ski.
"Ski areas attract folks who like to be social, they like to congregate with each other," said Mike Bordogna, the manager of San Miguel County.
Even outdoors, being near someone without a mask and touching damp surfaces increases your chances of catching and spreading the virus. That's according to May Chu, a clinical professor at the Colorado School of Public Health.
"What we were always worried about was really not the skiing, downhill skiing or cross-country skiing," Chu said.
Instead, she says the concerns arise from close-up conversations afterwards, even if you're outdoors. Face unmasked exposure for 15 minutes, she says, and "you will likely pick up virus if somebody in that proximity less than 3 feet from you is exhaling infective virus."
San Miguel County's population more than doubles on weekends as visitors come in, Bordogna says, but the locals are social, too. And locals there tend to do their own traveling. So he says town officials keep cautioning residents to practice safe behavior so their ski resorts, and local economy, can keep moving.
Meanwhile, in Idaho, Schweitzer Mountain Resort recently canceled twilight skiing after visitors refused to follow mask and social distancing rules.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.