What pandemic skiing will look like at Whistler Blackcomb this winter

'This is your year to experience the mountain. You're going to have a lot fewer individuals. For a skier, that is huge'

Visitors to Whistler Blackcomb this winter will need a mask and a reservation. Jonathan Hayward / PNG

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There are rumblings in the valley about how different skiing at Whistler Blackcomb will be this winter in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Season pass holders and day skiers are skeptical that the routine they grew to love will be complicated by reservations, lineups and mask wearing.

But there won’t be the international crowds of seasons past, says Jennifer Smith, communications manager for Vail Resorts’ Whistler Blackcomb.

“This is your year to experience the mountain. You’re going to have a lot fewer individuals. For a skier, that is huge,” she said.

“There is a very high probability that our border will remain closed, so a large portion of our ski population is international, so those people are missing from the system.”

You will have to make a reservation to ski whether you are a season pass holder, and Edge card skier, or someone who decides to book a ski day on a whim.

Opening day is scheduled for Nov. 26, and pass holders will have a window between Nov. 6 and Dec. 8 to choose seven priority days. Smith said that if you are accustomed to skiing Dec. 24, for example, you can reserve dates that you’d typically prefer to ski. Note that you will be directed to the Vail Resorts central booking site to reserve.

The reservation system rewards pass or ticket holders, no doubt. But Smith said this allows the resort to prepare for the number of skiers at a manageable capacity for physical distancing in lineups, and on gondolas and chairlifts. There will be health checks for ski-school patrons, groups will be limited to six people, and the group will be treated as a cohort team.

Food service will be modified, but in accordance with what customers are used to during the pandemic. And you can still get hot meals and takeaway items, and there will be liquor service.

“We’re asking people to try and spread out and be considerate of other guests. Clear the table when you’re done and work together, much as you’re seeing in all businesses,” she said.

And the reservation system is open to modifications. Smith said that the resort chose to be prudent with mountain capacity because it’s easier to remove restrictions if they aren’t needed, than ramp them up once the season is in full swing.

“If it goes smoothly, then we can always take things away, but it’s really better to go in arming ourselves, to plan conservatively and arm ourselves for every eventuality.”

• Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, skiing and winter sports routines are modified for safety.

Cypress Mountain Resort Mark van Manen / PNG

Cypress Mountain Resort

Season passes can be purchased at a reduced price until Sept. 30. The resort also instituted a deferral plan whereby your season pass can be deferred until the 2021/22 season. Note that the deferral plan is not valid for passes bought on or after Oct. 1, 2020.

Cypress will announce further mountain safety protocols Nov. 6.

North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain Resort. Mark van Manen / PROVINCE

Grouse Mountain

Winter passes are on sale now. There is also a deal on fall excursions before Nov. 15 with 50 per cent off admission. A temperature check is mandatory for visitors before boarding the Skyride. And face masks are mandatory. Passes with varying degrees of savings are on sale, with windows for purchase ending Sept. 30, throughout October and November.

Mt. Seymour. NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

Mt. Seymour

The folks here also have instituted a deferral pass option, valid until Nov. 15. Mountain resorts are recognizing that skiers and boarders may have purchased a pass earlier, but are not comfortable — for whatever reasons — to use the pass this season amid a pandemic. Early bird passes are on sale until Oct. 1 with the largest reduction in pricing.

Safety protocols will be in place, particularly limits on lifts, with mask requirements and social distancing for indoor spaces. Mt. Seymour will have four-hour windows to reserve for skiing, and reservable spots for other winter sports.

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