Coronavirus delivers 'body blow' to Colorado's ski industry

March is usually one of the busiest months for Colorado resorts

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While most people think of fun in the sun when the words spring break are mentioned, ski resorts are also a major destination.

Across the West, resorts that would be welcoming "breakers", have been shut down amid coronavirus fears.

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March is usually one of the busiest months for Colorado resorts, which tallied a record 13.8 million skier visits last winter and typically contribute between $5 billion and $6 billion annually to the economy. But on Tuesday, the chair lifts at Vail swayed silently in the breeze, and the resort's typically bustling base village was all but empty.

This Tuesday, March 24, 2020 photo shows ski lifts empty in Vail, Colo., after Vail Ski Resort closed for the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure has ended the normally busy spring ski season more than a month early. (AP Photo/Michael Ciag

Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, an industry group that represents 23 ski areas across the state, said the March 14 decision to close the resorts came on one of the season's busiest arrival days for visitors.

"We had several weeks left to go, in some cases more than a couple of months to go. So this was a body blow," Mills said.

Mills said many resorts generate 25 percent to 30 percent of their revenue from March through the end of the season, and the economic damage from the coronavirus is yet to be seen.

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Vail Resorts and rival Alterra Mountain Company have closed 49 of North America's most well-known resorts, including Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat. The move was an abrupt change of course after most of the country's resorts vowed to stay open during the crisis while taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued an order the same day suspending operations at ski resorts for one week. He has since extended the order through April 6.

Several counties in Colorado that are home to some of the country’s most popular ski resorts have been particularly hard-hit by the virus, and state health officials have warned that hospitals in many small mountain communities don't have the resources to treat patients with the disease.

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In neighboring Utah, the county where the ski resort town of Park City is located has a per capita infection rate similar to New York City and parts of Italy, Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said. Authorities expect local hospitals to reach capacity. On Wednesday they issued the state’s first shelter-in-place order in hopes of keeping the health system from becoming overwhelmed.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.