Ski resorts are currently feeling the effects of the Coronavirus. US journalist Laura Bell spoke to a variety of people affected in the ski resorts of Vail

On a bluebird Monday, 16 March, Stacey Birtwhistle and a friend skinned to the top of Arrowhead Mountain, Colo. Arrowhead connects to Beaver Creek, part of Vail Resorts.

While skiers are known to strap on their climbing skins, this day was unusual as Stacey’s dog Bala joined her and dozens of others. This was the second day of at least seven that Vail Resorts had closed all their lifts at every resort in North America.

“There were lots of dogs and owners skinning up and skiing down. At the base of the mountain, families were having picnics, children were sledging, people were drinking wine. It was just people getting outside.”

Two days prior Saturday, 14 March Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz released a statement that North American resorts will be closed effective Sunday 15 March through Sunday, 22 March due to the spread of coronavirus in the state. He further added that, “all scheduled employees for Vail Resorts, both seasonal and year-round, will be paid.

Stacey Birtwhistle and her dog Bala

Pour it on 

There are those in Vail who disagree with these measures. 

Snowboarder Seth Levy made the uphill trek with skins on a split board to the top of Spruce Saddle at Beaver Creek the day the lift ban started.   

“I was very frustrated with the dictate from the governor to shut down the ski resorts. I had made plans to go to Beaver Creek and I kept the plans,” Seth said. He was joined Kyle Wetherill and Greg Fedeczko, the latter a ski patroller.  

“We all had beacons and you would never go alone,” Seth, a volunteer 4x4 rescue and recovery worker added.  

One of his friends joked on camera, “Hey do you serve Corona (a popular Mexican beer) on tap?” 

“I found it terribly confusing and unfairly targeted our community, especially considering that on the front range (where he gets a majority of his voters) the golf courses, basketball courts, skateparks, etc are all still operating without any hiccups. I decided that I would go to Beaver Creek Mountain whether or not he wanted me to and, considering the land is in the jurisdiction of the National Park Service there wasn't much he could do about it,” he said in a Facebook post. 

Seth works from home as a consultant, but his wife- an office worker- is slowly making the transition to working from home. 

Seth Levy and friends in a quiet Beaver Creek


Vail ski instructor Greg Kelley worked the last day the lift were open. “I know of two guests at the resort that tested positive with coronavirus. We found out later that they were infected and skiing around the mountain. I know of other people working in the local restaurants who tested positive.

As a private instructor, Greg receives a good portion of his income through cash tips. Although he will be paid for this week, he is uncertain about the future.

“I was booked all the way through March and now I don’t know what is going to happen.” The locker room where he keeps his ski gear is off-limits. When he heard of the lift closures he was already at home several miles away and did not go back to Vail to face the crowds.

School glorious school

Things are also uncertain for students and teachers in the Eagle County School District.

Karen Conley, a primary school teacher, is posting her lessons online. She will be using Google docs and also communicating with her students via a number of other online platforms.

“We’ve prepared packets for the students for two to three weeks. They are used to this as we give them weekly packets. It’s important for them to keep the same routines.” Karen’s daughter Rachel is a senior in the US school system, equivalent to her last year in secondary school.

Her daughter’s school had planned a senior trip to New York City which has no been canceled. Graduation ceremonies scheduled for 30 May are also in jeopardy

In addition, inter-school sports have been canceled for the remainder of the school year.

Stacey Birtwhistle too has a senior at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. Her daughter, Emma, is taking classes online and does not know what the future holds.

“I’m hoping they have some sort of graduation ceremony for them,” she said.

Some local parents took to social media. “Dear Class of 2020,” one posted, “You were born during 9/11. You graduate during a pandemic. No doubt these events will shape you. You see beyond borders and political parties. You savor the good. You relish healthy lifestyle habits. The celebrations may need to wait and you are okay with that. We are proud of you.”

On the evening of 16 March Governor Jared Polis issued an additional executive order closing all Colorado ski resorts through the 22nd. On the evening of the 16th Polis ordered all restaurants, bars, movies and performance theaters, casinos, gyms, breweries and coffee houses to close from 17 March for at least 30 days.

The Lodge at Vail, an upscale hotel with an in-house restaurant, will only be serving room service meals. “We are on a day-to-day basis,” said an employee. “We don’t know what will happen in the future or even if we will be open tomorrow 

Fly like an Eagle (not now)

American Airlines, which operates several flights a day from around the country into the Eagle/Vail airport has canceled service from the 18th to the 21st and possibly longer.

Passengers have received notification from the airlines which are helping with rebooking. “We understand it’s frustrating to wait, but if you’re not traveling in the next 72 hours, please wait until closer to your trip to call. You can cancel your flight online now and call when you're ready to rebook,” a statement on their website read. After an hour on hold my call was not answered.

The former lieutenant governor Jeff Kottkamp (second in command in the state) of Florida moaned on Twitter, “Thank you for making this announcement as we are driving in to Vail. Came all the way from Florida only to have our family’s vacation destroyed.”

Colorado Governor Polis responded, “Thank you for your deep concerns regarding the health of our residents in the face of a global pandemic, as well as your heartfelt sympathy for the difficulties faced by those who work in the ski industry and hospitality. 

By Laura Bell