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Problems persist for Whistler Blackcomb pass holders unable to travel in pandemic

Confusion over refunds, credits, and a salvaged ski season linger 
Whistler Blackcomb Edge Card Getty Images
For Americans unable to cross the border or Vancouver-area residents adhering to pandemic travel restrictions, confusion over refunds and credits from Vail Resorts persist.

Gregory Hastings carefully picked the date for his ski trip to Whistler. 

With his own and his partner’s birthdays at the tail end of winter, in fall 2019 he booked a trip from their home in Washington State for March 2020, including two five-day Edge Card passes to ski. 

“We only have one time a year we can take two weeks away,” Hastings added. “It’s not like I’m a local and I would buy an annual pass or a five-day pass and use it whenever I want. It’s not only a lot of time for us, but a lot of money.” 

Then, just days before they were set to embark on their trip, both Whistler Blackcomb and the U.S.-Canada border shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hastings managed to get refunds for accommodations, but his Edge Card refunds proved not to be as simple. 

While Vail Resorts offered a credit for season pass holders and Edge Card holders for the 2020/2021 season (with a credit up to 80 per cent, depending on how many days were used), with the border remaining closed and no opening date on the horizon, Hastings continued to seek a refund. 

The Sept. 17 deadline to claim the credit came and went without his issue being resolved.

“We step back and say, ‘Did we get hoodwinked?’” Hastings asked. “We have a range of emotional responses, which deals with annoyance, but we think more deeply and we say, ‘Gee, we’re not alone.’” 

When asked about its refund policies for people who are unable or discouraged from travelling to Whistler, a Vail Resorts spokesperson said, “Epic Coverage [insurance] provides refunds for resort closures due to COVID-19 and certain personal events like illness, job loss and injury.” 

That new coverage was implemented for the 2020/21 season, however. 

“We know some of our pass holders are experiencing additional challenges this season,” the statement continued. “We sincerely understand their frustrations and will take all guest concerns into consideration at the end of the season when we seek to retain the loyalty of our pass holders. We thank guests for their patience ad we continue to focus on delivering a safe experience in resort.” 

Asked specifically about the case for Washington Edge Card holders who have been prevented from visiting by a nearly year-long border closure, the spokesperson said they were eligible for the credit and subject to the fall deadline. 

“These are non-refundable products and when they are used is entirely up to the guest,” Vail Resorts said in an email. “For example, they may have intended to use it in the spring, there’s no guarantee that the weather or conditions will cooperate for the trip.” 

The spokesperson reiterated that guest concerns will be taken into consideration at the end of the season. 

Closer to home, but not quite local

American visitors are one thing, but many North Shore and Lower Mainland Edge Card holders told Pique they have been obeying Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s travel restrictions and staying home this season. 

Lately, though, Henry’s messaging has become more muddled. After weeks of reiterating that Vancouver-area skiers and snowboarders should not be travelling to Whistler, Henry changed gears and last week said, “If you’re somebody who works or has strong connections and lives partly in Whistler, then yes, that is your local ski hill.”

“It’s not the skiing itself that seems to be the risk,” she added. “It’s the things that we’re doing before and after—if we are staying over, having people over.” 

On Monday, Feb. 1, however, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth went back to old messaging and told CBC’s The Early Edition that, “people shouldn’t be going on unnecessary travel, and in my view, I wouldn’t be going skiing.” 

He added, “I don’t believe that a ski day at Whistler is essential travel, but the issue is that it is the parties, it is after-ski that is causing the problems.” 

One North Vancouver Edge Card holder who asked to remain anonymous said he has opted to follow travel restrictions, largely to protect his family bubble, which includes his parents who help take care of his young kids. 

That said, he and his father plan to use their Edge Cards some time this season, even if the restrictions persist. He also has a second home in Whistler, but has been limiting time in the resort this year “primarily for essential up-keep.”

“We will find a way to make it work on weekdays later in the season when there are often less people,” he said in an email. “We don’t want a repeat of last year where I didn’t get to use any of my Edge Card days since we were planning on a bunch of spring skiing.”

He said he does not have much hope that Vail Resorts would issue any kind of refund or credit again if the travel restrictions remain in place all season. 

“We have no hope that Vail [Resorts] will be reasonable if we can’t use our days,” he said. “We have bought Edge or Season passes for over 30 years now, but we are honestly ready to give the mountain a break and cross country [ski]/ do other activities. Vail [Resorts] doesn’t seem to care about loyalty very much.”