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Ski Areas End Season Early Following Recommendations To Limit Crowd Sizes

A man in a yellow jacket skis away from the mountain-top restaurant at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Aaron Bolton
Montana Public Radio
Whitefish Mountain Resort announced it's ending it's season a few weeks early in an effort to mitigate spread of the novel coronavirus on Mar. 13, 2020.

Several ski resorts employing hundreds of Montanans announced this weekend they’re ending lift-service early amid peak season. They’re responding to recommendations from public health officials about limiting crowd sizes in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Big Sky woke to a fresh layer of powder Sunday morning. But by afternoon, resort officials announced the season would end early.

Taylor Middleton, COO and president of Big Sky Resort, says March is peak season serving spring breakers and thousands of guests have been affected by this decision.

“Sometimes the right decision is the hard decision, and this was a really hard decision, but we’re absolutely convinced this was the right thing to do for our community, for our guests and for our state,” Middleton says.

He says the decision to close now rather than Apr. 19 follows health officials’ recommendations for social distancing and industry trends. Austria and Switzerland recently closed all ski areas. On Saturday, Colorado’s governor ordered all downhill skiing operations to shut down for a week.

Lodging at Big Sky will remain open until Mar. 22 to allow current guests to change their travel plans. Food outlets will remain open based on specific needs and a commitment to social distancing. The spa and all retail and rental shops have ceased operations.

“We’ve assured all of our seasonal workers that we will have work for them or compensation for them for this coming week,” Middleton says.

Middleton says Big Sky Resort employs around 1,800 people and that the resort provides housing to several hundred seasonal employees. Middleton says they’re being encouraged to make plans to return to their families or permanent housing as soon as possible.

Soon after Big Sky’s announcement Sunday, Bridger Bowl Area and Whitefish Mountain Resort also said they would close for the season. Bridger Bowl said it will pay employees their scheduled wages through the planned closing date of Apr. 5. Whitefish is offering work assignments for seasonal employees through their scheduled work periods.

Red Lodge Mountain suspended operations for a week; its seasonal and year-round employees will be paid during that time, according to an e-mail from the marketing team.