Whistler Blackcomb (WB) is reminding the public that opening day is still a few days away after reporting "a high volume" of skiers and riders on-mountain this weekend.
"It was certainly a high volume, or a higher volume than what we usually see at this time of year," said Vail Resorts' West Coast communications director Marc Riddell. "It’s certainly a flag for us because obviously the resort is closed, but that doesn’t mean a lot of important work isn’t going on right now."
Thanks to COVID-19, WB is set for one of its latest openings in recent memory, planned for Nov. 26. Riddell said WB's operational teams are currently working on-mountain to get the terrain ready for skiing, which can involve heavy machinery such as snow cats and snowmaking machines.
"We want to make sure that our teams are able to safely operate and do the important work that they need to do to get the mountain open," Riddell said. "It’s not really the most ideal environment for people to be out and about in."
Patrollers were out this weekend informing parties that the mountain remains closed, which Riddell said most skiers and boarders took to heart. And while "there are no punitive measures now," Riddell said repeat offenders caught on closed terrain multiple times could have their ski pass revoked.
"Our intention is not to be heavy-handed about it," he said. "We’ve updated all our signage at the access points just to let people know. It’s both for their safety and our employees’ safety."
With just a week and a half until opening day, WB’s new online booking system has rolled out relatively smoothly, for the most part, despite high volumes when the booking period began (an unscientific poll on Pique’s Facebook page revealed no glaring user issues, with reader experiences ranging from “easy peasy” and “amazing” to flawless”).
Skiers and boarders will also have to book time in WB’s food and beverage establishments this winter, Riddell said in an interview last week.
A reservation system will open each day at 7 a.m. allowing users to book their preferred spot.
“It’s not going to be as spontaneous … You’re not going to be able to just roll into the Roundhouse and go get a sandwich,” Riddell said.
“So people are going to have to be a little bit more deliberate when they arrive, and plan it out.”
Along with the on-mountain establishments, the system will apply to the GLC, Merlin’s and Dusty’s, which will be “open in some capacity,” though details have yet to be fleshed out.
As far as COVID goes, and the prospects for the winter ahead, all WB can do is lean on its safety protocols, Riddell said.
“We have some very robust safety protocols that are being implemented and put in place, face masks being a key component of that,” he said, adding that the reservation system allows WB to adjust to the situation around it.
As the number of COVID cases rises or retracts, the mountain operator can now add or remove capacity accordingly, Riddell said.
“So we’re able to open more stuff up if the environment allows us, but we’re also able to scale back,” he said.
“It’s going to be a completely different experience … for us, it’s all about trying to have an understanding of what the demand is going to be, and to be able to manage it safely to keep our safety protocols in place to allow us to remain open.”
-WIth files from Braden Dupuis