Downhill social distancing

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 10th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: COVID in winter wonderland.

Colorado is the leading ski state in North America, with a snow-sports economy that generates nearly $5 billion a year.

Just before the 2020 ski season opened, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued new restrictions for several counties. The new “severe risk” designation means no indoor dining for resort towns, but on-mountain activities can continue.

REICHARD: WORLD Senior Correspondent Kim Henderson traveled to the Centennial State last week and brings us this report.

KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: In downtown Breckenridge, icicles hang above store windows. It’s 14 degrees, cloudless and sunny. Skiers call it a “bluebird day.” 


At the Rocky Mountain Chocolate shop, hot chocolate is a hot commodity. And across the street, bargain hunters have found a two-for-one T-shirt deal at a shop called Simply Breck.

CASHIER: All right. Ticket’s in the bag. Have a good one…

The cashier says business has been steady in spite of COVID restrictions.

CASHIER: I was expecting not a lot of people to come up here, but, I guess, you know…

The Golson family flew in from Miami for a first-time ski experience. When mom Trina began reserving their trip in August, she knew their plans could be upended.

TRINA: I’ve been monitoring online. Like, what would be open, what would be closed, and you know, things like that. 

But the Golsons haven’t felt like they’ve missed much. Calvin says it was easy to stay socially distanced on the gondola and the slopes.  

CALVIN: Reservations, only reservations. They would have people standing around saying, “Please put your mask back on.” So it was, it was pretty good. 

TRINA: The tubing is closed right now. Not until January. And then the snowmobile got canceled at the last minute, but we figured some things would be canceled at the last minute. So it didn’t really, it didn’t ruin our trip.

And even though COVID meant no annual tree-lighting ceremony, the sight of a Colorado Christmas thrilled the Golsons’ 19-year-old daughter, Aryana. 

ARYANA: When I first walked up, seeing all the trees lit up, it really looks like a Hallmark movie. I love it. 

It was a much different scene last March. Annette Kubek of the Breckenridge Recreation Department remembers when all the ski resorts closed and people went home.

KUBEK: We were waiting it out, hoping that we’d get at least the end of the winter, but nothing opened back up. So we kind of lost the big half of last season, including spring break, you know, Easter, our big spring business.

Kubek and others at the rec department wondered what the coming ski season would look like. How could they attract visitors? Then someone had an idea. 

KUBEK: So this is called the Runway Sledding Hill. It just opened, uh, let’s see, Friday. So yesterday.   

AUDIO: Three, two, one… 

And what a hill it is. Tall. Slick. Sledder slang might deem it “epic” or “gnarly.” 

At the bottom, a trio of cousins slide to a stop and grab their plastic two-man rides. They describe the moves that got them there.

KID 1: So actually I went backwards and I thought that, “What if I go backwards and I go straight?” (KIM: Did it work out?) Yes.

KID 2: Sometimes I stand up and do it on my knees.

They’re from Dallas, where Christmas can mean shorts and 60 degrees. They’re loving the white stuff.

KID 3: In Texas, there’s no snow. KID 1: So we thought it could be fun to have snow here. Hopefully we’ll have the best day of our lives.

In Breckenridge, the cost of a ski pass and equipment rental can top $200 a day. That makes the new free sledding hill a real attraction for families, visitors and locals alike. 

LOCAL WOMAN: We actually live in the Blue 52 Neighborhood, so right down from this. It’s so cool to have this. It’s just necessary to get out this winter and to be able to get outside with your kids. 

Kubek explains how it all came about for the rec department.

KUBEK: We have some housing construction going on out here on Airport Road. So we had this gigantic pile of dirt, and part of that planning committee decided, “Hey, we could make that into a sledding hill.” Our parks department got it all laid out and got the fencing and the parking and all that good stuff and the signage.


Runway Sledding Hill isn’t staffed, but it almost seems to bring out the best in visitors. Turn taking. Parent-child interaction. Group response to the occasional crash. 

And then there’s the wooden box at the entrance. A sign identifies it as “The Sled Shed.” Visitors can borrow plastic toboggans, single saucers, and inner tubes, then put them back when they’re finished.


A grandmother watching the action on the hill says she’s glad on-mountain activities have been allowed to continue. Her bunch, the Murphys of Colorado Springs, are wearing smiles behind their masks.

MRS. MURPHY: I say you live life, and you’re cautious at the same time. That’s what I say.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Breckenridge, Colorado.

(Photo/Kim Henderson) Runway Sledding Hill

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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