Organizers have officially canceled the 2020 Tour of Utah due to concerns about the continued spread of COVID-19. The decision to suspend the race—which was due to take place in early August with stages in various venues in Park City on August 6, 8 and 9—highlights the depth of economic uncertainty facing Park City and Summit County this summer. Businesses and the town are already feeling acute ramifications after ski season was abruptly halted with a month of expected lift ticket sales, shopping and dining money, lodging reservations and tax revenue remaining. Summit County has been hit particularly hard by the novel coronavirus, with infection rates rivaling denser national hot spots, casting doubt the tourist-centric community will be able to realistically resume normal economic activity any time soon.
The Tour of Utah attracts world-class cyclists and UCI World Tour Teams from around the globe. The race, considered the most difficult stage race in the United States, sees riders challenged by mountainous terrain across Utah. It’s become a huge tourist draw and driver of economic activity, as evidenced by the decision to add a new stage starting from Woodward in Park City to this year’s edition. The Tour’s final day, where riders finish on Main Street, is one of the largest single-day draws to downtown in the summer season.
The decision to cancel the event this far in advance evinces a sobering reality about the Utah’s recovery in the face of the pandemic. University of Utah epidemiologist Lindsay Keegan warned Utah’s peak in COVID-19 cases is months away. A doctor with the University of Utah I spoke with who asked not to be named said the latest U of U modeling shared with healthcare workers expects the peak of infections to occur in late June. The caveat here is the inherent uncertainty surrounding epidemiological modeling, but projections make clear that social disruption will continue far beyond the end of April.
Vail Resorts, owners of Park City Mountain and one of the town’s largest employers, announced massive furloughs for nearly all hourly workers, executive pay cuts and a suspension of dividends for shareholders. In an open letter, CEO Rob Katz said it was unclear when resorts would be able to resume normal business. When the largest companies and most visible events that drive tourism are battening down the hatches, it’s time for the rest of us to take notice. How everything will play out remains to be seen, but the havoc wreaked on Park City’s economy, businesses and workforce will be felt for longer than anyone would like to admit.
Cycling fans will undoubtedly be disappointed with the Tour’s cancellation. So will people like me who frequent the event and enjoy seeing widespread enthusiasm and a vibrant spirit take over the community each summer. Who knows what will happen with Park City Sunday Silly Market this year? Same goes for the Kimball Arts Festival and the huge lineup of outdoor concerts, all of which are centerpieces of Park City’s summer. As with everything in the time of coronavirus, we need to expect disruption, act responsibly and hope for the best. The mountains aren’t going anywhere, and we’ll still be able to watch cyclists suffer up their steep grades next year.