Following a snowy ski weekend that saw remarkably long lift lines at Colorado resorts and made some on social media wonder about the risks of COVID-19 transmission, Winter Park resort is reporting an outbreak among resort employees.
The resort released a joint statement with Grand County Public Health Monday night, announcing they were reporting the outbreak to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“This declaration allows more state resources to be pulled in to aid with suppressing COVID activity in the (Winter Park) employee group,” the statement said, adding that the resort, Grand County health officials and CDPHE “will continue to monitor the outbreak until two incubation periods (28 days) have passed with no new outbreak-related COVID-19 positive cases.”
The statement, which did not reveal how many employees tested positive, said the cases have not been traced to interaction with visitors but were connected to “social gatherings outside of the workplace and congregate housing.”
Winter Park and CDPHE are “proactively enacting protocols that allow more state resources to be used in aid of suppressing COVID-19 activity in the (Winter Park) employee group, including increased testing,” the statement said.
Winter Park isn’t unique. According to CDPHE data, there are 11 active outbreaks now at seven ski areas, not counting Winter Park, plus nine previous outbreaks now considered closed, for a total of 20. Breckenridge has had the most with eight.
Snowboarder Andrew Johnson went to Winter Park on Thursday but left after only two runs because he said resort staff wasn’t enforcing the mask mandate in lift lines and the base area. Johnson said he stood in line for 30 minutes at the Super Gauge Express in the Mary Jane base area with a man standing a few feet behind him, vaping non-stop.
“There were people loading the lifts with no masks on,” said Johnson, 31, who lives in Louisville. “It was very crowded and very, very close. There was no social distancing between groups. People got bunched up and there was nobody enforcing it. We ended up leaving after doing like two runs because no matter where we went, it just felt way too crowded, just not following the protocols at all. There were people walking around with their masks pulled down in big groups of people. It was unbelievably shocking.”
Johnson said he and his partner consider themselves high-risk because they have asthma.
“We’re questioning going back again, just because of what we saw,” Johnson said. “We usually average 25-30 times a year, going to Winter Park.”
Jen Miller, a spokeswoman for Winter Park, said the resort receives “a lot of feedback” from guests saying the resort is doing a good job handling pandemic issues.
“This is one passholder’s experience,” Miller said. “Plus, the county and the state, who have both been working closely with our team, have given us kudos for the steps we’ve taken and the modifications we’ve made to our operations. They mention it in the joint news release. The issue for Winter Park has been employees at social gatherings outside of work and in congregate housing.
”There is no documentation that people are getting sick in lift lines or on chairlifts. In fact, the current reports out there say skiing and riding outdoors continues to be a low-risk activity in terms of virus transmission.”
The announcement of the Winter Park outbreak came in the wake of the best snow conditions of the year last weekend in a season that has been mostly dismal for snowfall, bringing massive lift lines and social media posts that caught the eye of state officials.
“The need for extra spacing in lift lines and the influx of skiers avoiding dangerous conditions in the backcountry has created unique challenges, and many Colorado ski areas have already made great strides to address them,” said Conor Cahill, press secretary to Gov. Jared Polis, in a statement first reported by FOX31 News. “But more work needs to be done to address the challenges some faced from this past weekend. The state will continue to work with industry partners and ski communities in the high country so that Colorado can have a strong and safe season.”