'We are all in this together' -- Girdwood business owner on Alyeska ski closure

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Wednesday’s announcement that Alyeska Resort was closing its ski area due to coronavirus concerns will have trickle-down impacts on Girdwood’s economy, according to a local business owner.

Christopher Roberts operates two Girdwood businesses: a gift shop called the Great Alaskan Tourist Trap, and Glacier City Snowmobile Tours. He says 80 percent of his winter tours were booked by national or international tourists who, due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, have cancelled. He says the gift shop, which in the winter relies heavily on guests of the Alyeska Resort, is also hurting.

“Resort guests eventually make it down here and do some shopping in our store, so we’re missing out on all that,” Roberts said.

Roberts was quick to not place any kind of blame on the resort. Rather, he emphasized the closure is just one more coronavirus-related economic inconvenience to all of Girdwood, a small town that relies on tourism to sustain local business.

“With all the bars and restaurants closed, and now the resort, it’s really impacting the community,” Roberts said. “We are all in this together because Alyeska needs the support of Girdwood and vice versa.”

The Hotel Alyeska says it’s remaining open, for now -- so its guests may still trickle through Girdwood. Roberts says he's still booking out a number of snowmobile tours to Alaskans.

While the ski area at Alyeska had to shut down, Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage is staying open as long as it can according to the mountain’s general manager Trevor Bird.

“We feel up here at Hilltop that Alaskans need to recreate, and everybody’s encouraging people to get outside," Bird said. “We see skiing as a sport that can be done with social distancing.”

Hilltop has had to make some changes to the way it operates: closing the day lodge to everything but bathroom access and equipment rentals; selling lift tickets from outside windows; loading two people on the chairlift instead of three to maintain social distance, and more.

Skiers at the mountain Wednesday said they’re thankful Hilltop is remaining open, for however long it lasts.

“We appreciate them being open and doing what they can to help the community out and get people moving,” one skier said. “It helps to come and get your mind off everything that’s going on as long -- as you’re being safe, keeping your social distance.”

The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be cancelled or postponed over the next eight weeks, which raises some concern for the mountain remaining open.

Bird says they’re weighing the possibility of closing as new information comes in every day.

“...trying to decide should we be open? Should we keep running, or should we close?” Bird said. “We’re taking it day by day here.”

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