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Vail Valley’s Success Depends on Safety, and Staying Open

This article and photo first appeared in the Vail Daily on October 24, 2020.

Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard says success in the coming months means Vail Resorts’ ski areas are able to “open, and stay open.” Chris Dillmann |

Crystal balls generally don’t work very well, particularly in pandemics. But several valley leaders recently weighed in about what success might look like over the coming months.

The Vail Symposium held an Oct. 22 online “State of the Valley” session featuring Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Beth Howard, Vail Health CEO Will Cook, Eagle County Schools Superintendent Phil Qualman and Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll. The session was moderated by Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer.

For Howard, success in the coming months means Vail Resorts’ ski areas are able to “open, and stay open.”

Plans now are for Vail Mountain to open three portals on Opening Day, Nov. 20. The resort’s expanded snowmaking should allow skiing out of Golden Peak, Vail Village and Lionshead, and all are expected to open Nov. 20.

“We plan to open as much terrain as possible,” Howard said.

A storm forecast in late October will open a several-day window for snowmaking crews.

Opening a lot of terrain will allow the resort to physically distance guests as much as possible, Howard said.

Changes on the Hill

But, she added, much of the experience will be different this season, particularly at on-mountain restaurants.

Floorplans are being altered in accordance with public health orders, and much of the dining will be “grab and go,” meaning people can grab an item, pay, then head to the seating areas.

“We’re doing everything we can to allow a guest to eat, drink and use the bathroom,” Howard said.

Shroll echoed Howard’s belief that success with the pandemic will depend in large part on the success of the season.

A successful season will help create a successful economy, Shroll said, noting that the county’s current unemployment rate is up to 7%.

“We want to see that go back to pre-COVID levels,” Shroll said.

Committed to the Commitments

Shroll added that the valley’s economy hasn’t been hit as hard as first expected in March and April. He credited the community response regarding social distancing and following the “five commitments of containment” — maintaining social distance; hand-washing; face coverings in public; staying home when sick; and immediate testing if someone is showing COVID symptoms.

Qualman said he’d like to see Eagle County Schools “finish the year strong.” That includes maintaining educational consistency and building on partnerships with Colorado Mountain College, CareerX and other partners.

“We can’t put all our focus on pandemic response,” Qualman said. “We have to remain vibrant for the future.”

Cook has in the past noted that the valley’s economy can’t remain in shutdown indefinitely. In his view, success will depend on how the community manages the virus safely and effectively.

“The virus doesn’t stop us from providing other care,” Cook said. “That means getting upstream to illness.”

Safety was a common theme throughout all the participants’ answers.

“We need to maintain our high standards of safety,” Howard said. “Let’s open, stay open and keep everyone safe.”

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