#1: New Yorker Magazine Takes a Closer Look at the Explosion of Covid Cases Surrounding Sun Valley, ID:
This week, ski news, along with the rest of the world, was once again dominated by the Coronavirus. As we all find ourselves settling into this once unimaginable lifestyle, three types of stories are emerging: those that look at the start of the crisis retroactively, those that discus how people are currently dealing with it, and those that discuss what the longterm ramifications of the pandemic will be. This week, we’ll share one story from each category before rounding things out with a human interest piece that we hope will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
First up on that list, is an article from The New Yorker that dives into the factors that made ski areas ideal environments for the Coronavirus to spread. To achieve that goal, the article zeroes in on Ketchum, ID, hometown to Idaho’s popular Sun Valley resort. There, over the first week of March, the resort hosted the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), an organization of African American skiers and snowboarders. As part of their annual gathering, members of the group did what all skiers and snowboarders should be doing this time of year: riding the slopes by day, and celebrating together by night. The weeklong event culminated on March 6th, with a performance by legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff at a packed bar known as Whiskey Jacques. A week later, over 120 members of NBS had Coronavirus symptoms, 20 tested positive for Covid-19, and 8 were hospitalized. As you likely guessed, many of these skiers and snowboarders carried the virus with them back to their home residences. Meanwhile, the communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley have experienced the pandemic in force, with infection rates amongst the highest in the country. That statistic is unfortunately echoed in Mono County, CA, home of Mammoth Mountain, where, at the time of this writing, there’s the highest per-capita rate of Covid-19 cases in the entire state.
Obviously there are endless threads to follow in regards to a story like this, ranging from the “if only we’d known,” to, “how large of a role have ski resorts played in this global pandemic?” To be perfectly honest though, these are exhausting ideas to analyze, and ones that we’ll almost certainly have the time and responsibility to dive into over the course of the next few weeks. For now, we’d like to leave you with one simple takeaway: closing ski resorts worldwide was absolutely the right thing to do, not only for the mountain communities they call home, but also to curb the spread of the virus as the Sun Valley case study makes it painfully obvious that ski resorts had the potential to play the role of spreading the virus far and wide. To learn more, check out this article from The New Yorker, which takes the information we’ve just shared much, much further.
#2: As Cases Rise in Ski Communities, Officials Ask Visitors and Part Time Residents to Stay Away:
Keeping with this week’s theme of past, present, and future, our next set of headlines this week addresses the current situation in mountain towns, particularly in regards to part time residents and second home owners. It’s a topic we touched on briefly last week, and one that we caught a glimpse of in this week’s first highlight. This week however, the topic continued to heat up as multiple ski communities have begun asking part-time residents and those with second homes to refrain from visiting, or to leave if they’re already there. In Nevada County, CA, home to the town of Truckee, County Supervisor Richard Anderson has officially asked those that have somewhere else they can shelter at home, to please do so. In making this request, Anderson cites limited healthcare resources, a notion that’s back by Tahoe Forest Hospital CEO Harry Weis who would consider the area a hotspot. In total, the hospital has had 46 positive Coronavirus cases (as of 4/8/20), making the region approximately 9 times “hotter” per capita than the rest of California. Additionally, the hospital currently only has 25 beds available, with a maximum of 44 at surge capacity. Considering how contagious the virus is, as well as the current number of positive tests, it’s easy to see how Weis’s concerns are very real.
Building on that news is the fact that it’s not just the Tahoe region where Coronavirus concerns have led to a complete 180 in terms of mountain communities welcoming second home owners. In Colorado, two mountain counties are also struggling with the unprecedented challenge of keeping their full time residents safe, while also balancing legal and economic ramifications. In Clear Creek County, officials have closed all county-owned roads to outside traffic. Approximately 200 miles to the Southwest, Gunnison County (home to Crested Butte) has enacted a similar policy, asking all non-residents (including those sheltering in second homes) to leave the county. Unlike other locations that’ve made this request though, Gunnison County is facing significant legal pushback as the Texas Attorney General’s office has declared the order unconstitutional. At the moment, no legal action is being taken by the Texas AG, however it’s entirely conceivable that this is just the beginning of another tense saga resulting from an unexpected and unprecedented pandemic. To learn more about the situation in Clear Creek County, click here. To learn more about Texas’s response to Gunnison County’s orders, click here.
#3: Ongoing Coverage - The Economic Impact of Coronavirus:
We’ve talked about the past, and we’ve talked about the present, which means it’s time to discuss the future. This week, we caught numerous articles discussing the economic hardships and uncertainties facing the ski industry in the wake of the pandemic. Amongst the avalanche of articles covering this topic, one from The Colorado Sun titled, “The Ski Resort Industry is Hoping for Federal Relief From its $2 Billion in Coronavirus Losses” stands out for one significant reason: it immediately calls to attention the volume of expected losses stemming from forced closures. The article starts with several quotes from the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) Director of Regulatory Affairs, Dave Byrd, as he explains why the notion that ski areas were spared from economic fallout since they were about to close anyways, is a complete myth. From there, the article delves into more granular anecdotes, sharing stories from numerous mountains and organizations that have already made dramatic financial decisions (such as Alterra, who recently announced significant layoffs), as well as those planning to reduce spending moving forward.
Ultimately, that last tidbit is where a significant amount of economic damage is being done to the ski industry. Not only have ski resorts everywhere been forced to make the difficult decision of laying off a vast amount of staff, but they’re also being forced to scale back on planned spending during the offseason. According to Byrd, the ski industry could collectively decide to scale back its capital investments by well over 50%. In other words, not only is the ski industry not making enough money to maintain its full work force, but it’s also dramatically reducing investment plans. Taking this notion another step, that means local businesses such as construction companies and private contractors are suddenly without the massive projects that they’d like been relying on to carry them through the summer. Vail for example, has announced that it’s reconsidering plans to invest $150-$160 million across its resorts this year, which means the businesses lined up to take on construction projects of all types are suddenly without that planned income. Ultimately, this angle of the Coronavirus story is still in its infancy, which means we’ll be tasked with keeping you up to date on the latest news in regards to economic impacts for weeks and months to come. For now, we recommend checking in with the Colorado Sun for a good overview of the current state of the industry.
#4: Vail Ski Patrollers Reinventing Themselves as Backup Paramedics:
Finally, let’s round this week’s news out with a bit of a feel-good story. As you may assume after reading this week and last week’s highlights covering the economic impact of the Coronavirus on the ski industry, many paid ski patrollers are suddenly without a job. While many ski patrollers are traditionally able to balance their winter employment with some sort of seasonal summer employment, this sudden change in social behavior has left many jobless not only during the Spring months, but also without work for the foreseeable future. This dynamic, and underlying drive to help, has led more than 20 Vail ski patrollers to begin training to join the Eagle County Paramedic Service (ECPS). In offering their assistance, these ski patrollers turned paramedics are able to take on tasks such as driving or riding in ambulances, helping to free up expert paramedics, enabling them to attend to more immediate or specialized health emergencies. As a result, the ECPS has a certain level of added comfort, knowing that they can activate up to six additional ambulances should they need too, and that they can continue operations even if 40% of their staff becomes sick with the virus. Considering the fact that medical employees are at the forefront of this crisis, the role that these 20 ski patrollers are playing in ensuring the ECPS’s ability to service their community cannot be understated. Huge kudos goes out to all of those who’re offering their time and abilities to help their communities.
Taking this story a step further, we’d like to issue a brief PSA to remind you that there’s never been a better time to put whatever skills you have to use for the benefit of society. Whether that means taking basic training to help the medical community like Vail’s ski patrollers are doing, sewing face masks, or simply volunteering your time and talents to any local organization that needs help, we encourage you all to consider spending your free time contributing what you can in the collective effort to fight the Coronavirus. Most importantly, we hope you all stay safe during this crazy time.