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COVID-19 pandemic forces Durango’s Snowdown 2021 to cancel

Event organizers say popular winter festival could not be held responsibly with virus
Snowdown 2021 has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, event organizers announced Monday.

Although 2020 has been a year with an onslaught of bad news, this one particularly stings: Next year’s Snowdown has been canceled.

“For months we were trying to figure out how to make something work,” said Chip Lile, Snowdown board president. “But if we care about the community as much as we do, we cannot encourage gatherings.”

The first Snowdown was held in Durango in 1979, and every year since, the event has grown into a cherished local tradition that now draws people from all over to celebrate in the dead of winter.

For five days at the end of January and early February, Durango turns into a wacky carnival-esque town, with wild themes, flashy parades and nearly 200 oddball events spread throughout the community.

“Snowdown thrives on large gatherings, packed bars and restaurants and streets lined with revelers,” Snowdown board member Peg Ochsenreiter said in a statement.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, event organizers in March started to recognize how difficult it might be to pull off a Snowdown in 2021, which carried the wizard and warlock themed “A Magical Mystical Snowdown: We Put a Spell on You.”

This is the first year since its inception that Snowdown has been canceled.

“We meet once or twice a month, and we kept talking about alternatives for months and months and months,” Lile said. “But we just couldn’t come up with a way to do a half-baked Snowdown.”

Many factors went into the decision, Lile said. Events typically draw large crowds, which would go against social-distancing guidelines during the pandemic, and the annual carnival draws visitors from across the country to Durango.

And it’s not just the week of Snowdown that posed a risk. For months leading up to the event, organizers and volunteers frequently gather to plan the week’s happenings.

“We felt like that wasn’t good either,” Lile said.

Snowdown organizers wanted to get word out about the cancellation sooner rather than later, Lile said. It follows a string of other popular events that have been canceled in the community because of the pandemic.

“The economic impact is going to be felt,” Jack Llewellyn, director of Durango’s Chamber of Commerce, said of Snowdown’s cancellation.

Snowdown was created as a sort of “cabin fever reliever” to bring a jolt of fun and a reason to get out of the house for Durangoans feeling cooped up during the long winter months, Llewellyn said.

But the event has also become an important economic boon for many downtown businesses in a typically slow time of year.

“A lot of individuals I know from Albuquerque and Phoenix build a vacation around Snowdown events,” Llewellyn said.

In lieu of no Snowdown, Lile encouraged people to still get out and support local businesses.

And as a slight compensation, Lile said organizers are looking toward Snowdown 2022, and how to make it extra special – perhaps an extra Snowdown that year or extending the event for two weeks to make up for lost time.

“We’re not going anywhere, don’t worry about that,” Lile said. “We just want everyone in the community to recognize we took this decision very seriously over several months.”


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