Gondola

The Aspen Skiing Co. is actively working with Pitkin County in its planning efforts for the 2020-21 winter season, which will no doubt look different from previous years.

 

It will likely be late October before the Aspen Skiing Co. is in a position to announce any concrete plans for safely managing the upcoming winter season.

But that hasn’t stopped the employer responsible for the paychecks of more than 3,000 people from working diligently with the county in drafting preliminary plans. In fact, those conversations have been ongoing for at least a month, according to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock and Public Health Director Karen Koenemann.

Once a draft of those plans — which Koenemann confirmed involved discussions with a third-party testing vendor to ensure employees are able to routinely assure negative COVID-19 statuses, though she had little information otherwise — has been deemed satisfactory by the company, it will be submitted to the county. From there, it will go on to the state for final approval.

The state, however, has not yet published formal guidelines for the ski industry, and likely won’t until mid- to late October, Peacock noted.

“The upshot, though, is that while we’re working now collaboratively to put these plans together, we will not be able to submit them to the state for their approval until they have their guidelines, which I think is late October,” he said after Thursday afternoon’s board of health meeting.

That said, he’s optimistic that by getting the proverbial jump on planning, Pitkin County may be able to serve as a sort of policy beacon when it comes to implementing statewide ­resort guidelines.

“By working cooperatively locally and taking the lead a little bit earlier, our planning efforts can help inform state guidelines,” he said.

Although the county has been working closely alongside SkiCo to offer counsel regarding safety recommendations, those plans are still ultimately being written by SkiCo officials, not the county’s, which is why more details were not immediately available from public health officials. Koenemann told the health board Thursday that a meeting between the entities is scheduled for next week — she didn’t specify the day — during which time she anticipated learning more details.

So far, the emphasis from the county’s perspective has been on continuing its box-it-in strategy once winter tourists — as well as out-of-state employees — arrive for the high season.

And the considerations extend to far beyond the mountains, Koenemann noted. Some hypothetical scenarios have already been topics of exploration, but again, nothing has been formalized in an official plan.

“[As an example], you have a scan on your ski pass when you go into a restaurant. You scan that so your information is collected, and if we did have to do contact tracing from that restaurant, we could do that really quickly,” she offered. “The ancillary kind of pieces of skis on the mountain — so, transportation — we’ve also been in those conversations. It’s so linked. If you reduce capacity or increase capacity in one place, you have to think about how that impacts that in another place. Just thinking about those intersections.”

Megan Tackett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.