Aspen hockey meeting

Members of the Aspen hockey community gather for a meeting with city officials on Wednesday to discuss mask-wearing policies for the adult league. Officials heard comments from members of the league and discussed possible solutions to get players back on the ice as soon as possible. 

Emotions ran high at a meeting Wednesday night between the city of Aspen and members of the Adult Hockey League following news that the city would suspend league activity for two weeks.

The purpose of the meeting, held at the new City Hall building, was to find a way to reopen league hockey in a safe and sustainable way. While hockey players feel that they are on the receiving end of the city’s efforts to enforce mask-wearing wherever they can, city officials say the issue comes down to protecting the health of the public.

“We look at it like we had an outbreak,” said Assistant City Manager Diane Foster. “It’s not OK to not enforce the law. It’s not really a mask recommendation, it’s a law.”

Under Pitkin County’s health order, the city of Aspen requires masks in all city buildings and public spaces, including the Ice Garden and the Lewis Ice Arena in the Aspen Recreation Center. Currently, masks also are required during hockey games on the ice. City officials said the suspension was due to the high level of non-compliance they have witnessed throughout the hockey season.

Hockey players objected to the suspension, saying they felt singled out due to a COVID-19 outbreak in November that has been called the largest outbreak in the county since March 2020. Players asked the city to consider multiple solutions, such as making an exception to not require masks on the ice, or appealing to the county to make the ice rinks fully vaccinated facilities.

The city is unable to make the areas legal fully vaccinated facilities without the approval of the Pitkin County staff. Mayor Torre, who serves as a voting member on the board of health and who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he would bring the suggestions to the board’s attention in January.

“We want to figure out how to get you back on the ice,” Torre said. “The larger picture about this is a discussion that goes on at the [Pitkin County] Board of Health. Your suggestions, your ideas and your thoughts can also be shared with the [health board] because that’s where decisions are made.”

The city recorded all suggestions during the meeting on posters spread throughout the conference room where the meeting was held. Torre also said he would consider a policy to allow a maskless environment on the rink regardless of vaccination status as long as there is compliance with policies off the ice.

Players urged the city to act before January so teams could be allowed to play this weekend. They asked for better communication from the city and said they were willing to find creative solutions such as wearing more breathable masks that clip to their helmet cages or wear masks in all locker rooms and public spaces except for on the ice. Those who attended the meeting were vocal about their wishes during the two-hour session.

Questions remain about how the league will coordinate with visiting teams from counties that do not have mask or vaccination policies. The city can ask the county to approve a specific space, such as one league’s ice rink, to become fully vaccinated. If that happens, visiting teams may be asked to comply with the policy or wear masks at all times.

City officials said they would work over the next few days to consider what they heard. The city also will work to better communicate with teams before the weekend to relay information from the county, but no solid communication plan was laid out as of Wednesday.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the likely timeline of hockey's return. While Pitkin County staff could approve a vaccinated facility before the health board's January meeting, it is unlikely to occur by this weekend.