Kate Watkins is the chief economist for Colorado’s state legislature. She says that while damage to restaurants, hotels and other service-oriented businesses is happening across the state, it can take a more severe toll on resort communities that don’t have a lot of other economic drivers.

“It can be certainly very devastating for these communities. If their lifeblood is leisure and hospitality, then this is leaving a real hole in their economic communities,” Watkins said.  

The recent decline in COVID-19 cases is giving some business owners hope.  Lampe was able to do his first dinner sleigh ride in almost a year when Summit County eased restrictions on indoor dining a few weeks ago. He’s now allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity. 

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Lucy and Ethel the mules pull guests on a 2 Below Zero sleigh ride on the edge of Frisco, Colo. Feb. 25, 2021.

At the Frisco Inn on Galena, a 15-room boutique hotel in Frisco, owner Bruce Knoepfel is heartened by seeing some of his repeat guests return recently.  After a decent summer, occupancy plummeted when COVID-19 cases spiked early in winter. Currently, the hotel is bringing in about 60 percent of its usual revenue for this time of year, Knoepfel said.

He expects visits to climb into the summer as more people get vaccinated and are seeking an outdoor escape from their pandemic routines. 

“People need to go somewhere, and they’re feeling like doing [outdoor activities] is safer than many of the other alternatives,” Knoepfel said.

Winter weather continues to challenge restaurants even as some travelers seek a classic après ski

A half hour down the road from Frisco, in Eagle County, Andy Kaufman owns the Minturn Saloon. It’s the terminus of the Minturn mile, the popular backcountry ski route that starts at the top of Vail mountain.  

“I didn’t see a path forward last March and April. I was truly feeling like an existential issue,” Kaufman said.

He thinks he’s through the worst of it. His business was able to survive and retain staff through the spring with a federal loan through the Payroll Protection Program. During the summer months, the outdoor riverside seating did a booming business, he said.

Now, he’s winterized the deck somewhat, and there’s a roomy dining area for social distancing. He says if he didn’t have outdoor seating, and a large indoor space, he’s not sure the saloon would have survived.

“There are many wonderful restaurants who just don’t have that space,” Kaufman said. “It doesn’t matter how good of an operator, or how good your food is — if you don’t have the space, you’re not going to be able to exist.”

The moon rises over Frisco during a 2 Below Zero sleigh ride. Feb. 25, 2021.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The moon rises over Frisco during a 2 Below Zero sleigh ride. Feb. 25, 2021.

Kaufman says he’s one of the lucky ones. Still, he’s running with a pared-down staff. Whereas in the past he might have three or four waiters on a busy night, now there’s only two. Instead of having two bartenders over the course of an evening — there’s only one. And there’s no host.

Kaufman sometimes has to turn people away who show up without a reservation looking for the classic après ski experience.

“Everybody misses that feeling of being in a lively crowd, but this too shall pass,” he said.

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