Sierra ski towns ask travelers: Please stay away

Heavenly, shown in an earlier season, closed last weekend along with other ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area.
(Rachid Dahnoun)

Sierra ski towns should be booming right now. Snowfall in March brought some of the best conditions of the season. Instead, chairs were stilled at resorts from Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Mountain because of the coronavirus crisis. Now nearby towns are asking travelers to stay away.

“It would be irresponsible of us to encourage anyone to come to our town,” says Colleen Dalton, director of tourism for Truckee, the California town near Tahoe’s ski resorts. “Never in my career would I ever think I would be making that statement.”

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Small resort towns are asking travelers who may think it’s a good idea to escape to fresh mountain air and blue skies to postpone their plans. Towns say they wouldn’t have the medical services or food and other essentials to withstand a major influx of visitors.

In Truckee, one case of coronavirus has been reported, according to Dalton. Stores, recreation services, restaurants, bars and brew pubs have temporarily closed, though takeout food is still available. Last weekend, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar and other area ski resorts suspended operations for the next few months.


“Seems like it’s calm here,” Dalton says, noting traffic was light Wednesday. “With fewer people in town, we can keep it calm.”

Mammoth Lakes is making the same plea to travelers.

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“We’re asking anyone who is not a primary resident of Mammoth Lakes or providing essential services to our residents NOT to visit Mammoth Lakes for the time being,” said a Visit Mammoth Lakes statement Wednesday. “The reason is simple: as a small, remote mountain community our healthcare facilities lack the capacity to handle a widespread outbreak of COVID-19.”

“This is a heartbreaking message for us to send out,” tourism official Lara Kaylor says. “Tourism is our lifeblood.” Currently there are no cases in Mammoth Lakes. She acknowledges the tourism bureau isn’t a law enforcement agency and can’t shut down the town down.

But she hopes travelers will take the recommendation.

Kaylor says the town took action to protect locals but also to safeguard visitors. “We’re just doing our part getting everybody to stay in place and get through this thing,” she says.

Mammoth Mountain and June Lake ski resorts closed on Sunday, along with other resorts in the chain, such as Bear Mountain in Southern California.

South Lake Tahoe and Stateline, Nev., on Thursday joined in asking travelers to put visits on hold. "[N]umerous hotels, all Stateline casinos, bars, wineries, ski resorts, restaurants (excluding take out services), are closed anywhere from two to four weeks, or until further notice,” a statement from Lake Tahoe tourism said.

There’s no expiration date on the warnings because no one knows how long the coronavirus outbreak will last. Still, Dalton in Truckee hopes visitors will come back when it’s over.

“We want visitors to know we love them, and they can help from afar,” she says. “Consider booking at a later date. Don’t cancel on local businesses.”