Long lines at Steamboat Resort spark community outcry

The line for the Steamboat Gondola was full of people looking to take advantage of a powder day at Steamboat Resort on Thursday morning. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. received complaints from many social media users this weekend after the resort saw its longest lines of the season, which many frequent skiers said were the longest they’d ever seen at the resort.

“I’ve been skiing my whole life, and I’d never seen lines like Saturday,” Steamboat Springs resident Michael Landsberger said. “I felt kind of unsafe.”

Loryn Duke, Ski Corp. director of communications, said long lines for the gondola and chair lifts are to be expected if the resort is following its COVID-19 mitigation protocols correctly. Those guidelines only allow for those in the same household to ride together on the gondola and require an empty seat between households on a chair lift.

“The line is an indicator that we’re loading our lifts and our gondola at a much lower capacity than we normally do,” Duke said.

She added that “perspective matters,” and photos circulating on social media do not show social distancing, which the resort aimed to capture in an aerial video it posted on Steamboat Resort’s Facebook page.

When asked about the long lines at the ski area and whether or not they violated COVID-19 health protocols, Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton, who in that capacity serves as a member of the county’s Board of Public Health, said the lines are much safer than people from different households riding in an enclosed gondola together.

Gondola Line

We want to thank our community for holding us accountable in sticking to our mitigation plans this winter. We will continue to rise to the challenge and adapt as needed. We ask our guests to do their part in social distancing while at the Resort and waiting in line in the base area so we can continue to enjoy the mountain this season.

Posted by Steamboat Resort on Saturday, January 30, 2021

“I think the biggest thing in my perspective is that while those photos were somewhat alarming for a lot of us, the lines actually were more a result of the safety protocols that were in place,” Melton said. “People are wearing masks and goggles and gloves, and they’re outdoors.”

Duke said the resort does not have an official capacity limit on how many can ski or ride on a certain day, though it did report single-day tickets for Friday to Monday are sold out. Ski Corp. President and COO Rob Perlman said the decision to stop selling tickets on those days was the responsible decision with the holiday weekend and another large snow storm expected this week.

“While we have confidence in our plans and protocols, we have already made modifications for the upcoming weekend,” Perlman said.

He also announced the resort would be opening up the Pony Express chairlift later this week to assist with the movement of skiers and riders around the mountain.

Perlman also offered his take on last weekend’s huge crowds.

“No doubt we were tested big time,” Perlman said. “But it was 20% less than our peak days last year, and it was also the result of a perfect storm. Season-to-date snowfall leading into last week was 60% of our 30-year average. Then on Saturday morning, typically the busiest day of the week, we reported 20 inches overnight and 47 inches total at the summit by Sunday.”

Steamboat is currently one of two Colorado resorts listed on the Ikon Pass that does not require reservations, which some attributed to Saturday’s long lines.

“Steamboat has definitely gotten busier since it’s become an Ikon pass resort, and I don’t know how I feel about that,” said Dan Snyder, a part-time Steamboat resident who was skiing over the weekend and commented on social media about the crowds.

Duke said Ski Corp.’s decision not to require reservations for pass holders was made to ensure locals are able to use the resort whenever they want.

“We want our locals to have access to our mountain, and a reservation system would mean that locals and non-locals would be vying for the same reservation spots on the mountain,” Duke said.

Additionally, Duke said, a reservation system would not solve Saturday’s crowds, which were due to the largest snowfall of the season falling on a weekend

“That would have been a big snow day any season, but with pent up demand, it was the most desired day of the season,” Duke said.

She explained a reservation system also may not have helped crowds as those with reservations are still likely to show up early, building long lines early in the day.

“Everyone wants first chair,” Duke said. “A reservation system, while it does have limitations on overall skiers and riders, it doesn’t necessarily prevent crowds first thing in the morning on a powder day.”

Duke said all options remain on the table, and the resort has considered implementing reservations for the remainder of the season.

“Our objective is first and foremost the safety and well-being of our guests, employees and the entire community,” Perlman said. “While following safety guidelines and COVID-related protocols, our secondary objective is to remain open as we realize that being outdoors at a ski resort is vital to our health and wellbeing, our mental health and our livelihoods.

“Simply put, we are trying absolutely everything we can,” Perlman added.

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