Photo Essay

Lens of History

Two days after the pandemic closed Vail Mountain in mid-March, the Town of Vail hired a photographer to create a visual archive of how local life looked after the resort emptied of guests—and those who remained adapted to a new normal.

By Dominique Taylor Photography by Dominique Taylor

As a photojournalist, I've always wanted to tell stories that speak to a moment in history. I have photographed children and adults around the world in incredibly unique situations, from the thrill of snowboarding in Kashmir on the Line of Control, to the drama of World Cup ski racing, and the heartbreaking struggle of daily life in orphanages in Haiti. However, Covid-19's sudden arrival in Vail, a resort town seemingly insulated from world-changing tragedy that markets itself as an international destination for those seeking fun and action in the outdoors, was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before and was made even more arresting as the pandemic unfolded in my own backyard.

In mid-March, two days after Vail Resorts announced the immediate closure of all of its North American ski mountains in an attempt to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, the Town of Vail approached me to see if I felt comfortable documenting the situation to create a visual record for the municipality's archives. I jumped at the chance, thinking I'd spend a couple of weeks photographing the town as it hunkered down while the pandemic ran its course then life quickly returned to normal, akin to the way a resort town in Hurricane Alley might ride out a storm, dust itself off, and welcome everyone back to paradise. However as weeks rolled into months, I watched through my lens as our normally bustling wintertime community emptied of three-quarters of its population overnight and then those who remained adjusted to a routine of social distancing, mask wearing, and a whole new way of working and living with the coronavirus. As I continue to cover the ongoing effects of and the ever-changing response to Covid-19 in the Town of Vail, I find myself conflicted, feeling both fortunate to have such a unique window into the situation and saddened to be in the midst of a pandemic that, four months later, shows no signs of disappearing any time soon. My hope is that these images withstand the test of time and speak to the way my community responded to this challenging moment in the Town of Vail's history with resilience, much like those who came before us more than a half century ago and built an international destination resort in Colorado's mountains, out of nothing more tangible than a dream.   

Two passengers ride the public bus in the Town of Vail

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Passengers ride the West Vail bus into Vail Village two days after a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in the Vail Valley leads to the sudden shutdown of Vail Mountain. It has been 10 days since Eagle County confirmed its first case of coronavirus, and the county soon becomes a hot zone, reporting more cases per capita than anywhere else in the state. The Town of Vail puts new protocols in place to try to protect residents and visitors amid a rapidly changing pandemic. For the local bus system, this means boarding all passengers through the back door only and distancing passengers from the driver with yellow Caution tape. Drivers begin wearing face coverings and gloves, while riders are advised to maintain a six-foot distance from other riders. Two days after this image was taken, the Town of Vail suspends all bus service until May 4.

French bulldog stands at the base of a ski run on Vail Mountain

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Local French bulldog Frankie joins a small crowd of outdoor enthusiasts enjoying the amazing spring snow conditions on Vail Mountain two days after lifts stopped spinning for the season amid public health pandemic restrictions. Four days earlier, Vail's Town Council declared a Local Disaster Emergency and began encouraging social distancing and staying at home. As officials work to articulate a plan to deal with the community spread of Covid-19, many locals as well as a few remaining tourists defy an uphill travel public safety closure to skin up Vail Mountain for some fresh turns.

A person sitting on the Bart and Yeti's outdoor patio in Lionshead Village

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Bart and Yeti’s customer celebrates St. Patrick's Day in Lionshead Village on his own with take-out food on the restaurant's patio. The typically rowdy holiday feels much less festive as village bars and restaurants that usually would be overflowing with locals and tourists alike are now nearly empty. To combat community spread of Covid-19, on March 13 Eagle County issued a public health order banning gatherings of more than 50 people; three days later, an amended order closed all restaurant dining rooms, restricting service to take-out only. Only two days after Vail Mountain closed to skiing, Vail and Lionshead villages are ghost towns as an estimated three-quarters of the county's winter season population, including tourists, vacation home owners, and seasonal workers, leave the valley. 

Two people chat from their apartment balconies while a third stands on the ground below them

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Neighbors in East Vail make the most of socializing under an ever-expanding Eagle County Public Health Order that mandates social distancing, a stay-at-home order, and the temporary closure of nonessential businesses, put in place to cope with the rapid community spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the valley. With most of the Town of Vail shut down as well as the resort itself, many locals who normally would be at jobs on and around the mountain are quarantined at home with nothing to do, and little information about how long the stay-at-home order will last, and if or when they will be able to return to their jobs.

Man in a white protective suit shines UV light on the wall of a jail cell.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Jose Lopez, area manager of Clean Up Smart Cleaning, sterilizes jail cells at the Vail Police Department five days after Vail Mountain and most businesses in the Town of Vail closed to control the spread of coronavirus. Town of Vail officials go into rapid response mode to deal with the virus, including sterilizing public and private spaces like the Vail Transportation Center, the Police Department, and the valley's 911 emergency dispatch office, sometimes multiple times a day. On March 21, Eagle County confirms its first death attributed to the virus, Rod Powell, a 60-year-old local après singer, the fifth coronavirus death in Colorado. 

A long pedestrian walks through Vail Village

Friday, March 20, 2020

Five days after Vail Mountain closed due to the rise of Covid-19 cases in the Vail Valley, a lone pedestrian walks through the heart of Vail Village, deserted at the height of spring break season, typically one of the busiest times of the year for the resort town. Eagle County records the second-highest number of cases in the state, after Denver. 

A person wearing a mask that does not cover his nose shops for produce inside a grocery store

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Nearly three weeks after Vail Mountain closed to skiers, a City Market shopper wears a mask in the West Vail store as the reality of how contagious the novel coronavirus is begins to register with most residents in the Vail Valley. Eagle County confirms its second Covid-19-related death, a man in his forties who at the time is the youngest person to die from Covid-19 complications in the state of Colorado.

Lionshead Village bereft of people

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Despite bucolic spring weather and incredible spring skiing conditions, Lionshead Village remains deserted. While tourists and seasonal workers have left town, local residents and visitors from the Front Range have now been forced into quarantine and isolation due to a statewide stay-at-home order.

Two women sew masks

Monday, April 6, 2020

Monica Kubiak and Jana Kalina, nurses at Vail Health, join Howard Head Sports Medicine physical therapists and other Vail Health staff members in making masks and gowns for the hospital and community at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Vail Health staff sew more than 16,000 masks and make more than 2,000 gowns to augment supplies of personal protective equipment in short supply for health care providers and first responders.

Police officers purchase food at a restaurant in Vail

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Exactly one month after the resort shutdown, Town of Vail police officers pick up to-go meals from Yellow Belly in West Vail as face coverings in public are now commonplace due to Covid-19. While the effectiveness of mask-wearing on preventing the spread of the virus is debated nationally, the Town of Vail as a precautionary measure mandates that all essential service workers must wear masks and encourages the general public to wear masks or face coverings as well.

A person wearing a knit hat, balaclava, sunglasses, and gloves stands outside the Town of Vail Post Office with a package

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Despite unseasonably warm spring weather, a customer wearing a balaclava and gloves to protect against community spread of the coronavirus waits outside the Vail Post Office after collecting mail from his post office box. Since there seem to be more questions than answers about how the virus is spread, how deadly it might be, and who can and will be tested for Covid-19, most people don personal protective equipment when venturing out of their homes.

Workers wearing protective masks clear a roadside trail

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Town of Vail public works crew clears debris and snow from the Gore Valley Trail at Dowd Junction, which opens on April 20 to accommodate a surge in trail use by residents seeking relief in the outdoors after more than a month in quarantine. As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, the Town of Vail mandates that PPE must be worn by all employees as well as the public to stem community spread of the virus; ECO Transit now requires all passengers to wear face coverings on county buses.

Firefighters in a condo hallway

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Firefighters from the Vail Fire & Emergency Services respond to a call at a long-empty condominium complex in Vail Village that has flooded during the coronavirus lockdown. Like all Town of Vail employees, first responders are required to wear masks in public, and some take the opportunity to show a little of their individual personalities by adopting unique face covering styles, adding a dose of levity to troubling times.

A person wearing white protective gear sprays the interior of a police car

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A day before a virtual visit by Colorado Governor Jared Polis, the Town of Vail's police cars get a deep cleaning to disinfect for the coronavirus. On April 23, after posting two weeks of declining Covid-19 cases amid expanded testing in Eagle County, Polis approves the county’s request for exemptions from the state’s Covid-19 executive and public health orders as it moves to become the first county in the state slated for reopening.

People dine at an outdoor patio while a server wearing a protective mask carries food

Monday, May 25, 2020

A server wears his required face covering as he delivers food to customers on the packed creekside patio at El Segundo in Vail Village on Memorial Day, the first day Eagle County's revised public health order allows restaurants to resume service on premises, albeit at half-capacity. It has been just over two months since the novel coronavirus shut down the Vail Valley, and Governor Jared Polis has allowed Eagle County to transition to the Blue Square/Intermediate phase of the county's three-tiered reopening. On July 3, the county further relaxes restrictions as it moves into the final Black Diamond/Expert phase of its reopening on Fourth of July weekend. As on Memorial Day weekend, crowds again return to the cobblestone streets of Vail and Lionshead villages and pack restaurants, in addition to hotels, and cars again pack parking structures and clog unfamiliar roundabouts. Locals who have abided by pandemic restrictions for months to drive down the county's coronavirus infection rate warily note that many of these vehicles bear license plates from California, Florida, and Texas, states that were more cavalier in their approach to pandemic restrictions and in July began experiencing an explosive uptick in Covid-19 cases not seen since the onset of the pandemic. In an ominous portent for the coming ski season in North America, on July 9, Vail Resorts suspends operations of its Falls Creek and Mt Hotham mountains in Australia for six weeks, just four days after the resorts opened for the season, as coronavirus cases surge in that part of the world. What is our valley's future? That remains to be seen. As history continues to be made, I'll be there capturing it with my camera. 


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