Facing mounting concern over the spread of COVID-19, resort closes March 15
By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
BIG SKY – It was a day no one will soon forget.
At 4 p.m. on March 15, the Big Sky Resort chairlifts came to a halt more than a month prematurely as the lifeblood of the community joined a nationwide wave of private- and public-sector efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Many took to the slopes, thanking the snow gods for one last powder day to mark the occasion, and laughing with friends over midday beers and stories of a great season. Others cruised in solitude and silence, the soft conditions a mere cushion for thoughts heavy with uncertainty.
The decision came on the morning of March 15 after several days of meetings at the highest level of the Boyne Resorts. It was an unprecedented move, but one that nearly all ski resorts in the country felt compelled to do in the face of the virus: close early.
“COVID is real,” said Taylor Middleton, the resort’s president and chief operating officer, in an early afternoon interview on the day the resort suspended operations. “Reviewing all the facts we had at the time we decided that, absolutely, the hardest decision we could make and the best decision we could make was closing skiing as of this afternoon.”
Boyne’s senior team weighed news and international reaction over the week preceding the resort shuttering its doors, and based its decision on three main factors: “Smoothing the curve of contagion is important and we want to do our part to help with that,” Middleton said. “Number two, the Switzerland and Austria ski industries closed. And number three, the governor of Colorado shut down the Colorado ski industry [on Saturday] afternoon.”
A March 15 statement from the resort stressed the importance of safety in this uncertain time. “As always, our top priority has been the health and wellbeing of our guests, team members, and community, and this is undoubtedly the right decision given the current situation,” the statement said.
Big Sky Resort joined the rest of Boyne’s resort holdings in suspending operations, and Middleton is urging his employees to take care of themselves and each other during this time of duress and uncertainty. “We’re telling them to do what they need to do to get home and we’re doing everything we can to help them work through this situation,” he said. All resort employees will receive pay through March 22, according to the statement.
As for the Big Sky community, Middleton apologized for any inconvenience and said his heart goes out to everyone affected. “This is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re a big business or a medium-sized business or a small business, this is something that nobody ever anticipated and it’s as hard as it gets.”
Middleton added that he hopes the resort can find a way to reopen before the end of the season but that safety is his No. 1 concern.
“Everybody in this community is about skiing and all of the businesses are about being open and we hope [reopening] is a possibility,” he said. “We don’t want to call it for the season just yet, but we don’t have enough information at this time to know what it’s going to look like.”
Skiers with April passes that haven’t been used can get a refund or put the credit to another offering next season, but the future is uncertain and resort officials have not yet decided what measures may or may not be made for pass holders this year.
“We sincerely apologize to all guests currently at Big Sky, or planning to come for a ski trip,” the statement said. “Given the short notice, we have relaxed our cancellation and refund policy.”
Middleton said he and his team are working to provide any information they can and to help alleviate any pressure on the community.
“We’re really focusing on doing the right thing and taking care of all of our guests and all of our season pass holders and all of our employees in the best way we can,” Middleton said.
For a list of cancellations, refunds and other coronavirus-related information, visit the Big Sky Resort website for updates over the coming days.
Michael Somerby contributed in the reporting for this piece.