The annual KOTO Ski Swap has been canceled for the second year in a row due to COVID-19. Starting in the 1980s, the swap has been a staple within the community. Organizers worked diligently to figure out a way to make the event happen, but ultimately decided against it. The swap offers a chance for locals to sell and trade anything skiing-related, like helmets, Nordic gear and goggles.
“We are experiencing the same trickle-down effects of COVID-19 as everyone else, like lack of staffing and volunteers,” KOTO Executive Director Cara Pallone said.
The event typically takes place in November. For a lot of locals, the swap marks the unofficial start of the ski season. People from all over the county crowd into the library's basement to sell, buy and trade.
Norman Squier, who has been part of the community since 1979 and is vice president of the San Miguel Educational Fund, depended on the event to get his winter socks.
“People relied on the swap to get rid of their older stuff,” he said. “Every year, people would plan around it.”
For the past few years, Telluride local Brittany Anne Miller has coordinated the event. She attributed the cancelation to many different challenges resulting from the pandemic.
“The current landscape we are in is because of COVID-19,” she said.
Both Pallone and Miller agreed coordinating the swap is a huge undertaking. Not only does it require lots of hours, but it requires recruiting volunteers and a tremendous amount of energy.
“Within the past year, my life kind of totally changed. I don't have the bandwidth or the energy to run an event, let alone run this kind of event, during a pandemic,” said Miller, who recently moved to Ridgway.
In past years, the event has started on Friday and wraps up with the “After the Swap Swap,” where all extra gear is sold at discount prices the following Monday. In 2019, Miller coordinated and worked with 107 volunteers. This year, the event struggled to recruit enough volunteers, which Miller contributes to the labor shortage in town.
“It's a hot topic. This whole summer of events, finding enough volunteers has been a common problem,” Miller said. “It takes over 100 volunteers to make this event run, and people just don't have the extra resources and energy to volunteer.”
The event's first location was in the old Quonset Hut (on the west side of the elementary school), but eventually moved to the Wilkinson Public Library.
“We understand how important this event is to the community, and we explored every option to make it happen, but in the end, with the event right around the corner, we just really didn't have the resources to pull it off,” Pallone said.
In addition to the lack of volunteers, ventilation and airflow at the location was also a concern for the organizers. The basement of the library has no windows. A large garage door could have been opened, but that was not enough to ease COVID-19 concerns. Even if protocols were put in place, Miller would still question it.
Squier echoed the same sentiment and said he would have been extremely cautious and questioned if he and other board members would even attend.
“How would it be possible to make a sterile basement?” Squier added.
Organizers also considered having the event outside.
“There was the conversation of trying to do something outside, but that would take the event to another level,” Miller said.
Time was not in the organizers' favor. The final decision to cancel the event was made in late September.
“It became clear that we weren't going to hold the event right around Blues & Brews weekend,” Pallone explained.
Pallone commended Miller’s work, and compared her to past ski swap coordinators who have left a lasting legacy like Janice Zink and Jessica Lockwood.
“Brittany has been integral in that (coordinator) role over the years. And we are incredibly grateful to her,” Pallone said.
Despite being absent from Telluride's calendar this year, the swap will be back in 2022, Pallone added. She has already reached out to local retailers about partnering with KOTO for next year's swap and is excited about the event's future.
“Stay tuned for Ski Swap 2022. It should be the Swap of the Century,” Pallone said.