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Maxed Out: Rolling the dice with Whistler’s winter season

MAX nov 25 21
Will Whistler Blackcomb’s decision to allow unvaccinated visitors on gondolas result in a coronavirus super-spreader event this winter in the resort?

In addition to being opening day at Whistler Blackcomb (WB), today’s publication marks the final Thursday in November, or as our neighbours to the south refer to it, Thanksgiving. Being the final Thursday in November, the Pundit’s Rule Book—Small Town Edition—reminds me to begin my gentle segue into the peace on Earth, goodwill toward non-gender specific, non-binary men, ho-ho-ho, which is to say stop ranting about things.

So consider this my last kick at the can and the last thing I have to say about Vail Resorts’ unconscionable refusal to implement a vaccine mandate for Whistler Blackcomb’s gondolas... at least until the virus sweeps through town again and threatens us with another shutdown.

And to be clear, this sad state of affairs does not lie solely on the shoulders of Vail Resorts’ myopic management. It is more than shared by the inexplicable, illogical dithering of our own Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry (PHO) and Minister of Health Adrian Dix who stubbornly refuse to exercise their considerable power and who are, once again, prepared to throw this community under the bus for reasons that elude any rational understanding.

In a province beset by expensive natural disasters during the past year, I find it mind boggling Dr. Henry and Mr. Dix would roll the dice with the financial viability of Whistler, the town that, in pre-pandemic days, accounted for 42 per cent of all provincial tourism-based revenue. The same town that sent more than $1.3 million every day of the year to Victoria and other levels of government in tax revenue.

The shutdown last March and the local outbreak of the coronavirus that caused it was totally avoidable. Many people many times besieged Dr. Henry to place geographical restrictions on access to WB like those voluntarily imposed by Big White. Instead, we were inundated with visitors from the Lower Mainland, Ontario—who had closed all ski resorts in the province—Quebec, Alberta and a surprising number of people from outside the country who apparently poured over the border thanks to the business exemption on international travel.

They brought a gift of variants with them and, quelle surprise, COVID-19 swept through Tiny Town’s cramped living quarters and commercial kitchens like wildfire. Very quickly, Whistler became Canada’s Italy, a hotspot for viral infection.

In contrition, the PHO launched a massive vaccination effort in town. Too little, too late. Ironically, that effort, resulting in upwards of 90 per cent of locals being vaccinated, is now the sword being used against us to partially justify the PHO’s unwillingness to order a vaccine mandate for access to WB. Thanks... I think.

Ah, you say, but don’t you read your own paper? Big story: “Active Covid Cases in BC Fall to 15-Week Low!” 

Yeah, I saw it. I also saw the numbers behind it. In the last seven days, there have still been 2,668 cases, 30 deaths and 337 hospitalized, nearly half in ICU. I also read the stories about the virus once again sweeping throughout Europe with renewed vigour, causing regions and nations to enter another lockdown and Austria to become the first country to talk about making vaccination mandatory in February next year.

I read the admittedly unscientific poll reported on Pique’s website that 45 per cent of Canadians were ready to party like it’s 2019 over the holiday season, social distancing be damned. Whether it’s pandemic burnout or just the unbearable desire to socialize with friends and family, the stars are lining up to ring in the new year and a new wave. It ain’t over yet.

Since those with the political power seem to once again be pandering to the unvaccinated, that leaves me wondering why Vail Resorts won’t step up and do something that is clearly in its best interests. And make no mistake, implementing a vaccine mandate is in the company’s—and shareholder’s—best interests.

With scores of jobs going unfilled at WB, how is it in Vail Resorts’ best interests to squander the staff they’re going to need every day to check vaccine status at their restaurants when a vaccine mandate would relieve them of this task? Especially considering they’re not even going to be able to open some of their restaurants for lack of staff?

With children rapidly becoming the population at risk as vaccines are slowly rolled out for them, how is it in Vail Resorts’ best interests to have people beginning to talk about sending their kids to ski at Grouse? Hey, I get it. If I had young children, I wouldn’t send them up WB in gondolas potentially loaded with unvaccinated people, masks or no masks. Cheaper and easier for anyone in the Lower Mainland to send ‘em up Grouse. I’d probably even do it if I lived in Whistler! 

And don’t imagine the other B.C. ski areas that do have mandates won’t be using that as a marketing tool: Ski Whistler—Roll the Dice With Your Child’s Health.

And as for marketing tools, which screams louder in this time of concern? Ski Whistler Blackcomb, Our Vaccine Mandate Ensures Your Safety. Or, Ski Whistler—The Resort of Choice for the Unvaccinated. 

It doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure that one out. But it does call into question why Vail Resorts would roll the dice on what seems such a no-brainer.

A friend suggested it’s a pathological quest for every last dollar. Maybe they don’t want to refund even a single Epic™ pass. Of course, they wouldn’t have to for Americans since they have to be vaxxed to get across the border. And they surely wouldn’t have to for many Canadians since outside B.C. and Alberta, anyone coming is likely coming by air.

But to add weight to his argument he told me about a friend who cancelled his pass purchase, after paying the $49 down payment last spring. Seems he was injured this summer and may be facing surgery that would keep him off the slopes this year. 

Vail Resorts’ response to his cancelling the final payment in September? Suing him in small claims court. They’re insisting he pay for his pass and submit a claim to their insurance naysayers to see if they think it’s all right to refund his pass. I’m wondering had he died whether they’d insist his estate complete the pass purchase and submit the insurance claim? Oh, the humanity.

So there you have it. Any of you who thought Vail Resorts was a soulless corporation driven by unbridled greed may well be vindicated. Any who thought they didn’t give a damn about this town, ditto.

But even in my wildest dreams I didn’t think they were dumb enough to saddle themselves with unnecessary costs and pass up the best, cheapest marketing campaign that ever dropped into their lap. 

Peace on Earth.