British Columbia

No mask, no reservation, no skiing: Whistler Blackcomb unveils COVID-19 protocols for new season

The U.S.-based company that owns Whistler Blackcomb says anyone hoping to hit the slopes during the COVID-19 pandemic will have to reserve in advance, and access to the mountain will not be granted without some kind of face covering.

Pass-holders will be given priority to reserve time on mountain; slopes set to open Nov. 26

Mark Abma skis Whistler Mountain in January 2020. Parent company Vail Resorts has unveiled its COVID-19 safety protocols as it prepares for the 2020-21 ski season. (Eric Berger/Whistler Blackcomb)

The U.S.-based company that owns Whistler Blackcomb says anyone hoping to hit the slopes during the COVID-19 pandemic will have to reserve in advance, and access to the mountain will not be granted without some kind of face covering.

In a statement Thursday, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz revealed the company's COVID-19 safety protocols which will be in place as the season opens. 

"It has been our goal to design an approach that can remain in place for all of the 2020-21 season," Katz said.

Katz said people visiting any of Vail's 34 properties, including Whistler Blackcomb, will have to reserve online in advance, in order to help staff manage the volume of skiers on the slopes, lifts and in dining halls at any given time.

The new restrictions amount to a major behavioural change for the casual skier, said Marc Riddell, Vail's director of communications West Coast.

"If you decide that you want to come up [to Whistler Blackcomb], let's say, on a Tuesday, you would make a reservation, and your pass will automatically turn on as you get into line," Riddell said.

"If you don't have a reservation, you will not be able to access the mountain."

'Face coverings are foundational'

Katz said by continuing to make face coverings mandatory, resorts can avoid the need for "reactionary changes."

"We will be requiring guests to wear face coverings in every part of our operations," Katz said in an open letter. "Being safe and successful this season will require everyone's co-operation and we believe face coverings are foundational to make that possible."

Face coverings will be required in all indoor spaces, including gondolas, chair-lifts, dining halls, and even outdoor lift line-ups.

The number of guests on gondolas will also be reduced and limited to family bubbles if larger numbers chose to ski together, the statement said.

Season opens Nov. 26

The Whistler Blackcomb website says starting Nov. 6, 2020-21 season pass-holders will be given first priority to book using the online reservation system

The 2020/21 season opens Nov. 26.

Pass-holders will be given exclusive access within the first two weeks of the season.

After Dec. 7, those who don't have passes can try their luck at buying day-of tickets, but the resort is not promoting this approach. 

"In the early start of the ski season, we have limited terrain," Riddell said. 

"It's prioritizing our pass-holders. They are our most loyal customers." 

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