While noticeably different, a day at Steamboat Resort provides normalcy for many
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Tuesday was Martin Germain’s first glimpse of normalcy since March 13, the day Routt County announced its first two COVID-19 cases.
Germain works at Casey’s Pond, a Steamboat Springs assisted living facility that has seen multiple COVID-19 deaths. Due to his job, Germain rarely leaves the house except for work and essential trips.
But lacing up his snowboard boots, zipping up his jacket and gliding down the mountain under a bluebird sky at Steamboat Resort brought him back to a simpler and more familiar time.
“For a lot of people in Steamboat, this is kind of a nice flashback to normal,” he said. “It’s giving people a healthy outlet again, especially for us health care workers.”
Tuesday marked one week since the resort opened for the 2020-21 season with a long list of regulations, including mandated face masks and a requirement that guests book tickets in advance.
Dave Hunter, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. vice president of operations, said the season looks noticeably different, but resort patrons have adhered to guidelines, which he attributes to teamwork messaging helping people understand their actions can save the season.
“Even under (level) red, as we operated our first week, we’re continuing to adapt and adjust our plan,” he said. “There’s one thing we know, and it’s that things will change, so we need to be ready to adapt.”
Some skiers and boarders observed a much different mountain than the one they remember earlier this year, where parking lots were packed to the brim and one could expect to ride the chairlift and gondola next to people from across the country.
Tess Richey, who grew up in Steamboat and returned for the holiday season after finishing a semester at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said the mountain was much quieter than what she remembers from her 10 years skiing as a child.
“I’m used to seeing people all the time and skiing with random people,” she said. “I miss the social aspect, but I think we should try to find the positives where we can.”
Hunter agreed COVID-19 health protocols provide less opportunities for striking up a conversation on the gondola ride up to Thunderhead.
“Physical distancing is not intuitive to skiers and snowboarders,” he said, adding that enforcing social distancing has been difficult at times but is one of the most important pieces to keeping the resort safe from COVID-19 spread. “We really need to continue to emphasize the importance of giving other people space.”
Additionally, Hunter said opening restaurants and food outlets for outdoor dining and grab-and-go only was a huge pivot for customers and staff.
“The business we’re in and the way our guests would normally behave pre-COVID is a social thing,” he said.
To try and compensate for the lack of traditional dining options, Ski Corp. has implemented the roaming Pizza Ranger in addition to the Taco Beast. As for on-mountain dining, Thunderhead Food Court is open, and staff hope to have Four Points Lodge open soon, though Hunter said they are unsure exactly when.
Many guests found the social distancing brought a sense of peace and allowed for more runs, with shorter lines and less traffic.
“Really the experience is almost better,” said John Wells, who was visiting Steamboat from Denver as part of a family trip. “I’m used to skiing with much more traffic.”
While Steamboat has seen unusually warm temperatures and little snow so far this season, Hunter said the resort’s manual snow making, with water collected from the Yampa River, has provided a nice buffer while the resort waits to collect heavier snow.
Steamboat forecaster Mike Weissbluth predicted snow this weekend, which Hunter expects will help, but the temperature drop is what he believes will be most beneficial to the resort.
“To open a trail on natural snow, 4 to 8 inches doesn’t really get you there,” he said. “The snow-making temperatures are what’s really driving it.”
Steamboat currently has six of 18 chairlifts open and 19 of 169 trails. Hunter said the opening of more trails depends heavily on Mother Nature.
Loryn Duke, Ski Corp. director of communications, said with so many constant adjustments being made this season, the resort appreciates feedback from the public, particularly about COVID-19 protocols.
“We definitely appreciate our local community and our community of skiers and riders,” she said. “This is definitely a shared effort for all of us to succeed this season.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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