British Columbia

'Make Whistler Great Again': Petition targeting Vail Resorts management of B.C. ski hill gets traction online

More than 6,000 people have signed an online petition over concerns like higher prices and longer lines since U.S.- based Vail Resorts purchased Whistler in 2016.

6,000 petitioners say they are concerned about higher prices and longer lines

Vail Resort spokesperson says the petition focuses primarily on operational issues and the way the resort is operated has not changed. (Denis Dossmann/CBC)

Thousands of people have signed an online petition highlighting a wide range of grievances against Vail Resorts, the American company that took over Whistler Blackcomb Holdings four years ago.

The Colorado-based firm assumed ownership of the popular B.C. resort in 2016 and a number of local residents claim, since then, conditions on the mountain have gone downhill.

Over 6,000 people have signed the petition, entitled Make Whistler Great Again, which was started by part-time Whistler resident Ben Cherniavsky.

The petition maintains that since Vail Resorts purchased Whistler Blackcomb, the lifts have become more unreliable, lines have become longer, the mountain takes longer to open, snowmaking and run-grooming has become worse and the food quality has decreased, while the price has increased.

"It's been a gradual erosion of a high-quality experience that people have noticed on many different fronts," Cherniavsky said Tuesday in an interview on CBC's The Early Edition.

Opening delayed due to weather

In a statement, Vail Resorts spokesperson Marc Riddell said the company has not changed how the mountain is run and while it can always do better, the petition focuses primarily on perceptions of operational issues and the way it operates has not changed.

Riddell said the mountain had a record snowfall in January of 477.8 centimetres, which meant the upper alpine area of the mountain opened later than normal because the snowpack was too volatile to be safe for public use.

Whistler Blackcomb had a record snowfall in January, which meant the upper alpine area of the mountain had to open later than normal due to unsafe conditions. (Mitch Winton/Coast Mountain Photography)

The peak chair, which takes skiers to the top of the mountain, opened on Jan. 16, which the company says was the latest it has ever opened and this was also due to weather conditions.

"These are conditions we haven't seen in 30 years," said Riddell.

Cherniavsky, who has been a part-time resident since 2007 and held a seasons pass for over 20 years, said the problems existed before this year, which he called the straw that broke the camel's back.

"The fact that the price has gone up and the quality of experience has gone down really irks people," he said.

Price points

In a follow-up email, Riddell said to underline the premise that prices have gone up is "disingenuous." He said prices for passes have in fact gone down and people pay significantly less if they buy a pass before the start of the season.

He said a Whistler Blackcomb unlimited season pass costs $1,619 under Vail ownership, compared to a past price of around $2,000.

Riddel also noted the resort offers their Epic SchoolKids Whistler Blackcomb Pack, which is a free program for Canadian and Washington state grade-school children. It provides five days of skiing or boarding in addition to one free lesson and equipment rental.

A screenshot of Whistler Blackcomb tickets on Feb. 11 shows prices listed in both Canadian and U.S. dollars. (WhistlerBlackcomb.com)

Concerned about catering to America

Cherniavsky also takes issue with what he says is preferential marketing to American tourists, such as posting the price of tickets in U.S. dollars next to the Canadian ticket price.

Vail also sells an Epic Season Pass, which allows purchasers unrestricted access to Vail Resorts across the United States, as well as to Whistler Blackcomb. Cherniavsky is concerned the company is catering to that clientele to the detriment of locals.

"We are in Canada. We don't make U.S. dollars. We don't know what the exchange rate is like every day. On many different fronts, they have been insensitive that they are operating in Canada."

Geoff Buchheister, the resort's chief operating officer, will join host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition at 7:50 a.m. on Feb. 14. The show will be broadcast live from the Southside Diner in Whistler to celebrate the legacy of the 2010 Olympics.

To hear the complete interview with Ben Cherniavsky on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

Petition starter Ben Cherniavsky speaks with Stephen Quinn about the growing complaints about the American owners of the Whistler-Blackcomb resort. 6:48

With files from The Early Edition

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