Last week at a well-attended forum hosted by the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, ski area and lodging panelists gave a mid-season update, offering comments and answering questions about how winter tourism is working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That conversation was remarkable for its candor, camaraderie and how deeply participants are engaged and invested in the community and keeping it safe.

Inn owners who canceled weddings and events for spring, summer and fall in 2020 (and may be able to host only limited events this year) defended the state’s travel guidelines and the fact that the state’s COVID numbers back them up.

Ski area managers pointed out that the guidelines are about keeping all of us safe, on the slopes and down in The Valley.

There was a clear-eyed realism about this discussion that was about being pragmatic and hopeful. During a discussion about whether the state is focused on tourism right now, chamber executive director Eric Friedman praised the state’s marketing team for trying to use federal CARES funds as smartly as possible and rather than spending them on getting people to come to Vermont when they can’t come here, husband those resources until it’s time.

“The state is not focused on tourism right now. COVID is a bigger deal than tourism,” said 1824 House owner Sean Kramer.

‘In the long term, that could be valuable. People in the U.S. and the world are seeing Vermont as number 1 in the country for handling the crisis and being on top of that list day after day for going on a year now says a lot about our state. It’s on brand. We’re people over profits. Those are the types of things that, if we do it right, we have the opportunity to make something positive about this whole situation,” Friedman responded to Kramer.

That is spot on. This is on brand for The Valley and for Vermont. It has wreaked havoc on our economy and our hospitality industry in particular and it will take an enormous amount of work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is who we are as a community and a state to prioritize public health and safety and to quote the oft-spoken words of our governor, to protect the most vulnerable.