Best of the West: Winter recreation adapts to COVID-19; new resource in Montana for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People; Emily Harrington makes history in California’s Yosemite National Park

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Nov. 9, 2020. Photo courtesy of The Salt Lake Tribune.

The Snowsports industry is a major economic driver, generating $55 billion annually across 37 states and creating over a half-million jobs in the process. As ski season approaches, resorts in the West are looking to adapt to COVID-19 and keep their slopes open to the public.

In Colorado, the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment has released guidance for ski areas to follow, requiring a detailed plan of action to be submitted before reopening is permitted. Alterra, for example, which operates resorts at Steamboat Springs and Winter Park, has opted to limit capacity and tightly regulate daily ticket sales.

Ski areas in Utah are planning a similar patchwork of regulations. Eleven of the state’s 15 resorts will impose a cap on how many skiers and snowboarders they allow on their slopes this season, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Many also expect longer wait times for ski lifts, owing to “ghost lines” and other social distancing measures.

“With the amount of traffic resorts are going to see this winter and with COVID protocols, there will be some lines that people will have to deal with,” said Dustin Hansen, the owner and general manager of Cherry Peak, a small resort near Logan. “Plus [there’s] the spacing, so it’s going to look longer.”

Tahoe’s 17 ski areas – spread across five counties in Nevada and California – will also be operating under their own health and safety guidelines, The Mercury News reports. Officials expect some degree of fluidity in these rules, as local and corporate entities adjust to fluctuating case counts and emerging public health guidance. 

To manage crowds, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming is offering discounts to those who purchase tickets in advance. Bogus Basin in Idaho will be extending its night skiing hours to help with spacing.

“The important thing is that you know what to expect before you go,” said Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California. “You can’t just show up; you have to show up with a plan.”

Emergency Broadband Deployment: As the Cameron Peak Fire – the largest in state history – burned on the doorstep of Estes Park, Colorado, the town faced a difficult conundrum: their broadband and emergency lines were about to be fried by the approaching blaze. The solution? A newly laid, 481-mile internet line named Project Thor in nearby Granby. According to The Colorado Sun, within hours, 16 different organizations collaborated to splice fiber and gain the necessary permissions to bring the system online, a feat that would normally take months to complete. “It truly is an amazing story how we all worked together to pull this off,” said Nate Walowitz, Regional Broadband Program Director for Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “If any one of these partners hadn’t participated, this wouldn’t have happened.” Here’s how they did it.

Missing Persons: The Blackfeet Community College (BCC) in Montana recently unveiled a new missing persons reporting website created in collaboration with Montana’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force. Montana Public Radio reports that the new site, “allows people in Blackfeet Nation to submit missing persons reports that are immediately shared with local police, including Bureau of Indian Affairs, Glacier and Pondera dispatch.” The project is funded by a $25,000 grant from the state’s Department of Justice as part of the Looping In Native Communities Act, aimed at helping tribal nations address the high numbers of missing persons in their communities. "The thought process is to empower local communities to stand up for themselves and to pass on the tools that we're building right now to other Indigenous communities,” said Drew Landry, the USDA extension agent at BCC. Learn more about the new resource.

Mutual Aid: When the novel coronavirus first hit Idaho, “you could really feel the urgency,” Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, a political director for the COVID-19 Idaho Relief Fund, told Boise State Public Radio. The organization labels itself a “mutual aid group,” helping connect people with the resources they need to weather the difficult times brought on by the pandemic. To date, they’ve raised more than $9,000 from hundreds of donors, partnering with the Boise optometrist shop Lumos Optical to meet their goal. “Mutual aid is just a great way to show the interconnectedness of community,” Gaona-Lincoln said. “It's not a charity, it’s not a handout. It's just community.” The concept that Gaona-Lincoln and her colleagues have embraced is nothing new. In fact, it has roots in approximately 200 years of disaster response across the country. Read more about how mutual aid can benefit communities in the West.

Conquering El Capitan: The 3,000-foot formation in California’s Yosemite National Park known as El Capitan is considered one of the most historic and difficult rock-climbing ventures in the world. According to NPR, the mountain’s fearsome reputation did little to intimidate Emily Harrington, who recently free-climbed the obstacle in just 21 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds, becoming the first woman to scale the peak in less than 24 hours. "I think the reason it was successful was kind of a mixture of finally being prepared enough, finally having the experience required, having the fitness and the training, as well as a little bit of luck," Harrington said. Free climbing, the method chosen by Harrington, is a dangerous endeavor. Just last year, one of Harrington’s climbs landed her in the hospital. Find out how she bounced back and made history.

ICYMI: COVID-19 in the West: A state-by-state breakdown of the Governors’ work (updated regularly)

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