The long wait is almost over—Whistler Blackcomb (WB) is targeting a June 29 opening day for its 2020 summer operations.
But with COVID-19 factoring in, Whistler's summer experience is going to look much different than in past years.
"It's a complete behavioural change, and I think the thing that people should take home is that we want to get open in a safe and responsible way—it's not going to be the same experience that they're used to, but we're very eager to get back at it," said Marc Riddell, Vail Resorts' West Coast director of communications.
"The team has been working hard. Frankly they've been working their butts off trying to figure this thing out, and we're happy that we can deliver what we're going to deliver on June 29."
The Whistler Village Gondola, Peak 2 Peak Gondola and Blackcomb Gondola will bring hikers and sightseeing guests up the mountains, while the Whistler Mountain Bike Park will open with the Fitz and Garbanzo zones. Grab-and-go food options will also be available at the Rendezvous, Garbanzo Bike and Bean, and the Roundhouse Lodge.
All on-mountain transactions will be cashless.
The Blackcomb Ascent Trails will not be open right away, but could be phased in as summer progresses.
Physical distancing rules will be in place and masks will have to be worn in several areas of the mountain including during line-ups and loading.
While most guests will likely be accustomed to being asked to physically distance, and maintain two metres from others, "the thing that is perhaps different for the guests is that we are asking them to wear face coverings, and that's including people that are going to be using the bike park," Riddell said.
"And you know, face coverings can be a buff, or it can be a gator, it can be a mask ... it's all down to individual preference. But you're going to have to wear a face mask when you're loading and unloading chairlifts, [and] when you're riding in gondolas, so that's going to be a new thing."
Those without a mask will be asked to leave, Riddell said.
Gondolas and other high-touch surfaces will be frequently cleaned and disinfected, while hand-sanitizing stations will be provided.
"If you come with a party you're going to be required to ride the gondola with that party," Riddell said.
"We're not going to mix and match folks, with the exception of the Peak 2 Peak gondola where you'll have Plexiglas barriers in place and a limited capacity per gondola on that."
Pass pricing will be posted online in the coming days, but Riddell said guests can expect similar prices to past summers.
While rentals will still be available (with proper cleaning and disinfecting protocols in place), bike school, lessons and camps will not be offered to start.
"We're going to evaluate that and we're hoping to introduce bike school as we go along, but certainly camps like the DFX camps won't be running this year," Riddell said.
Park riders are also asked not to camp out the night before opening day.
Capacity will be monitored consistently throughout the day, and managed as necessary, Riddell said.
"It's all in order to make sure that we can maintain physical distance for everybody in a safe manner, but it's not what we're going to lead with," he said.
"We're just inviting folks to come, and if we do have capacity issues then we'll address it on the day, but we're not going to say, 'This is the number per day, this is what you have to do.'"
As far as staffing goes, Riddell said it's an all-hands-on-deck approach, with some staff members taking on jobs they may not be accustomed to doing to help fill in any gaps.
"We're going to throw ourselves at the operations and make sure that we're staffed going forward with this, but we're pretty confident we have the staff available to deliver what we're offering here," Riddell said.
All WB employees will be required to wear a face cover, wash their hands regularly, stay home if sick, undergo daily health screenings, and participate in special COVID-19 training.