Colorado ski resorts hoping to capitalize on outdoors activities this summer

Winter Park Resort will be opening its summer trails. Photo courtesy of Carl Frey, Winter Park

Powder widely went to waste this spring, and now Colorado’s ski industry will see if investments to summer pay off.

With safety guidelines in place, resorts are inviting guests back to hiking and biking trails and theme park-like attractions that have sprouted in recent years.

Aspen Snowmass, for one, opened its Lost Forest over the weekend, including an alpine coaster, ropes course and climbing wall, with tickets costing between $49 and $94. Also, bikes were being loaded onto lifts, for the recently expanded downhill park.

“We are very lucky we are able to give access to the outdoors, which naturally sort of comes with social distancing,” Snowmass spokeswoman Tucker Vest Burton said. “We’re just hoping we can offer a great way for folks to get out in nature.”

That was not an option after mid-March, when COVID-19 closed the state’s slopes. Losses are being calculated from a spring season that never was.

Vail Resorts this month announced a 47.8% hit to third quarter net income compared with last year, with total revenue down 27.5%. The downturn led the company to slash its capital plans for 2020 by $80 million.

In the past decade, those plans have been focused on summer more than ever. That’s because of the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which allowed the U.S. Forest Service to approve industry efforts to entice customers year-round.

Vail Resorts has been at the forefront of the transformation. In 2016, Vail Mountain debuted much of its Epic Discovery draws: zip lines, ropes courses, bungee trampolines, a climbing wall and the centerpiece Forest Flyer. Such alpine coasters have since come to Steamboat and Copper Mountain, which is set to begin summer activities July 4, including opening its facility dedicated to action sports.

Breckenridge also got a substantial piece of Vail Resorts’ $100 million commitment to summer. The Summit County ski area in 2015 received the go-ahead from the Forest Service to add adventure park spoils and trails. The additions would bring 200,000-plus seasonal visitors, the Forest Service outlined, spelling an annual economic impact between $3 million and $12 million.

But this summer, visitation is anyone’s guess. COVID-19 worry still lingers despite lockdown restrictions lifting.

In a letter to investors, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz predicted the fourth quarter to be “negatively impacted by the travel environment.” Still, he expressed confidence in the summer, saying the resorts would “deliver a safe and enjoyable guest experience.”

Last week, the company announced opening festivities at Colorado resorts at the end of June and early July. Steamboat, meanwhile, announced “scaled back operations,” with the alpine coaster and mini golf course among amenities available, but the popular bike park closed.

Winter Park, however, will open its world-famous Trestle Bike Park on June 27. The resort is asking riders to buy tickets (starting at $50) two days in advance. That’s “mostly to mitigate (lift) lines,” resort spokeswoman Jen Miller said. “We just can’t have a big influx of people at the base.”

With “pent-up” energy, she expected the park to be busy. “People want to get out,” she said.

 

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