At least 10 of Colorado’s smallest ski areas together received at least $5 million — and as much as $12.7 million — in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program.
While the big-league operators like Alterra Mountain Co., Vail Resorts and Aspen Skiing were too large to qualify for the federal stimulus loans, the so called “gems” — or independent, smaller resorts — were able to collect millions and protect more than 900 jobs.
“We were able to keep all our full-time employees and a few of our seasonal employees,” said Tom Hays, the general manager of Glenwood Springs’ Ski Sunlight, which received between $150,000 and $350,000 in a potentially forgivable PPP loan to protect 44 jobs. “I would much rather that, than see them go on unemployment and maybe find another position. We thought it was really important to keep our employees on the payroll. It costs so much to retrain some of these folks that it’s best to just keep them onboard.”
Sunlight joined Granby Ranch, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Purgatory, Ski Echo and Wolf Creek in qualifying for PPP loans. Silverton Mountain and Hesperus received less than $150,000 and was among the more than 90,000 small Colorado businesses not named in the federal Small Business Administration database. The money saw the ski areas paying workers for work on projects, renovations and protective measures in preparation for the coming season.
Monarch received $800,000, and the Chaffee County ski hill was able to retain 50 of its summer employees. Beyond payroll, general manager Randy Stroud said the ski area worked on “adjusting our environment up here to the new protocols both inside and outside.”
This included new configurations of counters for drinks, food and ticket sales. Plexiglass barriers for employees. New signs helping visitors stay distanced. Hand-sanitizing stations. The ski area remodeled its base lodge bar and eatery to keep visitors separated.
“Anything, in essence, that will get help get us closer to a touch-free environment,” Stroud said.