Residents in Whistler urge province to extend vaccination order to include ski passes, lift tickets
A petition with more than 8,000 signatures was started earlier this month
With just a few weeks left until ski resorts open in B.C., residents in Whistler say they are concerned about mingling with unvaccinated visitors this season and are urging the province to extend the vaccination mandate to include ski passes and lift tickets.
Small business owner Randall Jang says he's worried that COVID-19 cases will spike again once ski slopes open at the end of November.
Last season, Whistler Blackcomb was ordered to close in March by public health order in an effort to curb travel-related transmission of COVID-19.
"B.C. health should pass and extend the order to require proof of vaccination to buy a ski lift ticket," Jang told CBC News.
"If this community gets sick, it's going to put a very heavy burden on the health-care system and it's going to impact businesses and individuals working here."
Many Alberta resorts like Mount Norquay and Sunshine Village are requiring skiers and snowboarders to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, 72 hours before accessing the chairlift and resort.
Jang says he and other Whistler residents are specifically concerned about sharing enclosed gondolas with 10 to 24 people, with no vaccine proof, for the 25 minute ride to Blackcomb.
"We need the province to be proactive this time instead of reactive. We're about to pack children with strangers who may not be vaccinated," he said.
"The balance of probabilities historically points to higher cases once tourism opens up. We faced it and experienced this in Whistler and it will happen again."
Under the province's current health order, people over the age of five must wear a mask in all indoor public spaces and show proof of vaccination to access a range of non-essential businesses including restaurants, movie theatres and bars.
Petition urges province to make changes
More than 8,000 people have signed a petition urging the province to change its policy and require vaccination proof before riding the ski lifts and gondolas.
"Almost everyone goes up the mountain in a gondola and they're very tight, confined and poorly ventilated spaces," Whistler resident and petition organizer John Konig said on the CBC's On the Coast.
"I'll say physical distancing is measured by inches in gondolas."
He said his biggest concern this ski season is the possible influx of unvaccinated visitors, which could lead to another outbreak and possible forced closures.
Whistler Blackcomb's U.S. based owner, Vail Resort, said in a statement to CBC that it intends to "load lifts and gondolas at normal capacity," require face coverings and proof of vaccination in indoor settings and restaurants, and require all its employees to be vaccinated.
"The health and safety of our guests and employees remains our top priority. Whistler Blackcomb is complying with all applicable COVID-19 health orders from the Provincial Health Authority to help keep our employees and guests safe," it said.
Gondolas not included in vaccine mandate
The province's health minister, Adrian Dix, says he believes there are enough layers of protection in place and therefore, he doesn't expect the public health order to be extended for gondolas at Whistler Blackcomb.
"We don't have vaccine requirement or proof of vaccination for buses or for ferries," he told CBC News, "but we do have a mask mandate, we have vaccine mandates for the staff and all around Whistler and we have high vaccination rates in the province."
As of Tuesday, 90 per cent of those 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 85.4 per cent a second dose.
Earlier this month, Grouse Mountain said it will be requiring all guests to be fully vaccinated to access the resort this winter, including its ski lifts and gondolas.
"We believe implementing this policy over the winter season will provide the strongest protection against COVID-19 to those who visit and work at Grouse Mountain, while allowing us to return to regular operating capacity on the Skyride," it said in a statement to CBC News.
Dix says he's confident that people visiting Whistler this winter will be fully vaccinated, as without one, they would not be able to go to restaurants and partake in other activities.
"I think it's fair to say that they need to be, and they're going to be, vaccinated," he said, "but I do think that there's a very significant layer of protection for people who want to go skiing this winter."
- An earlier version of this story said people over the age of 12 must wear a mask in all indoor spaces. In fact, the age requirement is five.Nov 02, 2021 6:17 PM PT
With files from On the Coast