Telluride Ski Resort and local governmental officials hosted the first of what’s sure to be many talks regarding the upcoming 2020-21 ski season during Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting.
Jeff Proteau, Telski’s vice president of mountain operation and planning, was joined by CFO Tom Richards, director of risk manager Matt Thomas and Chad Horning, who is the son of majority owner Chuck Horning, in providing information about the resort’s operating plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proteau explained that resort officials began discussing protocols eight weeks ago. Before presenting the plans to the state for approval, county commissioners, as well as Telluride and Mountain Village council members, wanted to discuss the ins and outs of navigating a successful ski season during a pandemic.
“(Telski officials) have done a lot of heavy lifting to move us forward and entering into the next unknown,” county public health director Grace Franklin said.
The resort worked with county officials before opening the bike park this summer, so this isn’t necessarily new. Limiting lifts to individuals or small groups who are together is one example of how the summer will help Telski prepare for the winter.
“We’re not green with this whole thing,” Proteau said. “ …We know that we have to get really good with dealing with this pandemic. We think we’ve done a great job. We’ve brought in almost 400 employees. We don’t have a single case yet.
“We’ve done everything we can in terms of developing cohorts, having our employees working in teams, wearing mask, social distancing and all the workplace safety practices that we need to implement in order to feel that we have a safe workplace. We know our success really depends on it.”
There will be a similar discussion during next Wednesday’s special county meeting, starting at 12:45 p.m., during which Telski will present its preliminary operating plan in order to collect feedback from local stakeholders. Officials all agreed that it would be best to start the process as early as possibly, while anticipating changes along the way as the state provides more information about guidelines.
“Ski season is approaching. We understand that we have to adapt to Covid and what we set in a plan might need to be adapted as we go along, and that requires really good communication,” commissioner Hilary Cooper said. “ … If we wait we’re going to get into a crowded field with all the other ski areas that are potentially larger and more complex than us. My idea is not to rush this but move it along efficiently so that we can submit something sooner rather than later.”
Proteau agreed, “We’re eager to submit something, and we can submit something as early as next week. Having said that, the longer we wait the more we’ll know, but we can always add things, whether it’s more information on contact tracing or more information on testing that we don’t know now but we may know in two or three weeks. We can always add to this plan.”
Safely operating amenities on the mountain, mainly bars and restaurants, are a concern, but Telski has plans to deal with indoor areas that can be more crowded.
“We just met this morning on how we’re expanding our restaurant opportunities to provide better social distancing with temporary structures that can handle wind and snow loads in various locations on the mountain,” Proteau said. “The mountain can ski a lot of people. We can have plenty of people on the mountain skiing. It’s when they get ready to have lunch. Those are the things we’re focused on, where those bottlenecks are.”
Similarly, socially distanced lift lines will be another change.
“There will be some inconvenience. I think everybody has to be prepared for that. It’s a different world dealing with the pandemic,” he added.
Monitoring and managing overall capacity is another piece of the puzzle, Richards explained, adding the resort will use data from past seasons in doing so.
“We do plan on managing our capacity. We’ll be looking at it on a daily basis,” he said.
Testing, contact tracing, communication, guest and staff management, and public health compliance, were also discussed Wednesday. While officials didn’t decide on a definitive timeline for submitting the ski season plan to the state, each subject will be more thoroughly examined during upcoming meetings.
“We’re going to make the mountain safe so that we can hopefully hold people on the mountain as long as safely as can be just so that we don’t feel this influx that everyone is concerned about down in town,” Proteau said. “We just think providing skiing and keeping people on the mountain is a good thing. It’s good place for people to get out and recreate, so we’re going to do our best at that.”