Aspen Skiing Co. asks skiers, riders to mask up in gondola lines |

Aspen Skiing Co. asks skiers, riders to mask up in gondola lines

Skico facing widespread worker illnesses, exacerbating shortage

Scott Condon
Aspen Times
Skiers wait in a line that wrapped around the block from gondola plaza before opening day on Aspen Mountain on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Soaring numbers of tourists and COVID-19 cases have convinced Aspen Skiing Co. to implement additional precautions against the disease.

Customers are being asked to wear a mask while waiting in line to board the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain and the Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass. Previously they were only required to wear a mask once they entered a gondola cabin.

Signage explaining the new policy was placed at the Elk Camp Gondola on Thursday, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications. He was uncertain when new signs would be placed in the Silver Queen Plaza because the entire sign department staff is out with COVID-19.

Masks are required by Pitkin County in public, indoor locations including mountain restaurants and ski area ticket offices. Skico extended the requirement to gondola lines because skiers and riders carrying gear face difficulty masking up before they enter gondola cabins, Hanle said.

Skico will rely on voluntary compliance and won’t monitor people in the gondola lines.

“We don’t have enough employees to do that and we don’t want to be the police,” Hanle said.

Skico is requiring all employees to be vaccinated and they are now required to wear masks while loading chairlifts. The company is expanding precautions because of so many staff illnesses.

“We’ve had a lot of staff go down quickly,” Hanle said. He himself was awaiting test results Friday after possible exposure while attending a recent wedding in the Midwest.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 has been sweeping across the country in the last week. That coincides with a massive increase in the number of tourists coming to Aspen for the holidays.

While Skico is grateful for the business, the growing numbers also pose a threat of accelerating the spread of the disease.

“It’s peaking at exactly the wrong time,” Hanle said.

Patience will be required of holiday crowds, he said. There may be facilities or services that aren’t available at all times because of worker shortages. As an example, Skico won’t open the fine dining Alpen Room at High Alpine Restaurant on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, according to Hanle.

Skico is juggling the schedules of its limited number of employees and will juggle more as needed, he said.

On its website, Skico said a collective effort will be required to keep the ski areas operating through the winter, a point Hanle reinforced.

“With the recent surge in infections from the omicron variant, it will require everyone’s cooperation to stay open while keeping our staff, guests and community safe,” the website said.

In other Skico news, uphilling will be prohibited on Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands on Friday and Saturday. Heavy snowfall is expected and avalanche mitigation will be required at all elevations. Skinning and other uphill transit will be allowed at the two ski areas on Sunday. There are no prohibitions at Buttermilk and Snowmass.

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