Summit County officials discuss contact tracing concerns for upcoming ski season

Skiers and riders board the Black Mountain Express lift on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
Liz Copan /

FRISCO — Although it has not been vetted by Summit County or state officials, Vail Resorts’ plan for the upcoming ski season falls in line with what the local public health department would expect. 

At a Summit County Board of Health meeting Thursday, Aug. 27, county officials discussed the resort company’s plans to have a reservation system for passholders, require masks on the mountains and implement physical distancing measures. County Manager Scott Vargo said the plan aligns with previous conversations involving the county and ski area owners. 

“It does match up, for the most part, with what they had been expressing to us without a lot of details,” Vargo said. “Our next step with regards to that plan is … to sort of dig into it (and) get a better sense of what the details are.”

Vail Resorts, which owns Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort in Summit County, became the first ski area to announce its plans for the upcoming season. Because the state has not released any guidance or mandates surrounding ski areas, the plan has not officially been approved. 

A major concern for county officials surrounds contact tracing. With visitors coming to the county to ski, the process of determining close contacts of positive cases will become more difficult.

“How we’re going to be able to coordinate and collaborate with public health and any of the ski areas needs to be better understood just so we can have really fast reactions to any kind of outbreak,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said.

Specifically, the officials are worried about employee housing and seasonal employees who do not permanently live in Summit County. 

Vargo said county officials would like to see a contact tracing process for ski area employees that is similar to what is used by restaurants and lodging facilities. Those businesses currently collect information on employees including residences and schedules to help the contact tracing process move smoothly. 

“If this person is a Vail Resorts employee or Copper (Mountain Resort) employee and they live in employee housing but they also have a second job, it’d be great for employee housing to have the information and contact info for that other job,” Vargo said. “We’ve broached that subject and certainly expect to have that as part of the overall plan, as well.”

Public health’s contact tracing team will investigate all cases involving employees of the resorts, even if they don’t permanently live in Summit County, Director Amy Wineland said. 

“We would absolutely be taking them on as residents in the county,” she said about contact tracing. “They’re here for a long period of time.”

However, those cases won’t be reported among the county’s total case data. Instead, those cases will be reflected in the data of their permanent residences, Wineland said.

The county is continuing to have conversations with the ski areas, including Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, both of which have not publicly released a detailed plan. 

“Everybody seems to be on a similar path in terms of trying to get something pulled together quickly,” Vargo said.

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