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Whistler Chamber weighs in on Whistler Blackcomb closure

Survey launched to find out about the needs of businesses during COVID-19
Many were going about their daily lives in Whistler Village on Saturday, March 14, just hours before Whistler Blackcomb announced it will close until March 22. Photo by Braden Dupuis

WITH NEWS on Saturday, March 14 that Whistler Blackcomb (WB) will be closed until at least March 22 due to concerns around the COVID-19 virus, local business owners are in for a tough stretch.

"We're entering a time of uncertainty and uncharted waters. That's no news to anybody," said Whistler Chamber CEO Melissa Pace.

"[Vail Resorts] had to make a really difficult decision to suspend their operation in North America, which unfortunately includes Whistler [Blackcomb]. The decision was based on the safety of their staff and their guests ... it is what it is, and we need to now take a look at our business model and how it is today, and see where that lands."

Business owners in the resort are "definitely concerned," Pace said, but it's important that they stay calm.

"Small business is undoubtedly going to be affected, and has already been affected ... it's definitely time to pause and educate ourselves, and reassess the decisions that we make, and most importantly, bring calmness and patience to your staff, and for yourself," Pace said.

"What we focus on really does become our reality, and does expand ... we'll get through this, and it's important that we don't make knee-jerk reactions."

The Chamber will be "repositioning" itself as a place where business owners will be able to get all the necessary tools and resources from the government, Pace said.

And while it's still too early to talk about financial relief for business, Pace said the government could ease the pain by putting a pause on taxes like the Employer Health Tax.

"Keeping money in the accounts of the businesses, so that the businesses don't go further into debt—that's what we want to look for," she said.

Pace encouraged Whistler business owners to fill out the BC Chamber's recently released survey related to the impacts of COVID-19.

"That will really help us to understand exactly what we need to do to support the community," she said.

On March 15, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that bars, theatres, gyms, pools, ski hills, dance studios and other non-essential services must close, while restaurants must operate at 50-per-cent capacity and keep patrons at least one metre apart.

Several Whistler locals have been calling for similar actions in the community on social media of late.

Will Whistler soon follow suit?

"I am watching what the provincial health authorities are going to say, and that's really all we can do. We can't assume anything, they are the ones that understand this ... and they will guide us and let us know what we need to do next," Pace said.

"But it is up to the individual business owners to decide what they choose to do, and I totally respect the decisions that they make."

Asked about hotel bookings, Pace said she had left messages with two local managers but had yet to hear back.

Requests for comment to three local hotels were not immediately answered.

Meanwhile, though Whistler Blackcomb will be closed until at least March 22, maintenance and patrol teams are still working on the mountain, said communications director Marc Riddell.

"As such, we are not allowing skinning on our tenure outside of the designated route (Singing Pass)," Riddell said in an email.


Following news on Saturday that there are now two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pemberton, there was no provincial media update on the virus on Sunday.

The next update is Monday, March 16 at 10 a.m.

Each positive case of the virus is "immediately announced" by health minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, a ministry of health spokesperson said in an email.

Specific locations of positive cases are not given out due to privacy concerns.

"Anyone who may be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 gets contacted by the public health officials who are supporting confirmed cases and their close contacts," Henry said in an emailed statement.

"We will not be identifying the specific location of confirmed cases unless public health providers cannot be certain they have reached all those who need to be contacted and who therefore might be a risk to the public.

"We want people who have symptoms to contact us, and to feel safe contacting us, knowing their privacy will be protected so the steps to protect the health and safety for all can be taken. This is why privacy is important to everyone. It allows public health providers to do the work they need to do to keep everybody safe."

But the COVID-19 rumour mill continues to churn endlessly in Whistler.

A rumour that an employee at Fresh St. Market tested positive for the virus, and a subsequent rumour that the store will close for two weeks, are both unfounded, said store leader Mark Ball.

"There are no plans to close the store; in fact, we plan on staying open during the whole outbreak," Ball said.

"We don't view our service as frontline in dealing with the outbreak, per se, but people need to eat ... even if they quarantine the town, my understanding is hospitals, clinics will stay open, pharmacies will stay open, and food stores."

As for the rumour, Ball said he started hearing about it on Tuesday.

"There's definitely no confirmed cases in our store, and as of now, I'm not hearing of any symptoms [from those who call in sick] that match the illness itself," he said.

"I'm hearing some crazy stuff right now, and I'm just tamping it down where I can, and asking people to check their sources, because, yeah—it's a little over the top."


Before news of WB's closure broke on Saturday afternoon, many were going about their daily lives in Whistler Village.

In the opinion of local Robin Nichols, the Resort Municipality of Whistler would do well to issue a stronger statement about the risk the virus poses, and the importance of social distancing.

"We know this is a resort town. Nobody would be here if it wasn't, right?" Nichols said.

"But at a certain point, [you can't] say things are same old, same old, because they're not."

Reached by phone on March 14, Mayor Jack Crompton said he is committed to providing clear messaging through Vancouver Coastal Health—wash your hands, don't touch your face, stay at home if you are sick, practice social distancing, don't travel outside Canada unless it's essential and don't hold gatherings of more than 250 people.

"If you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself and phone 811—do not automatically attend the clinic if you are experiencing these symptoms," Crompton said.

But the messaging about the risk posed by COVID-19 may not be reaching everyone.

"The latest developments are that we are about to go to Longhorn, and that's all I have in my mind. I don't care about whatever else is going on in the world," said Brittany Irvine of Maple Ridge, who was in Whistler on March 14 to celebrate a friend's birthday.

"I wash my hands like a normal person should."


Meanwhile, event cancellations and facility closures continue to add up in light of COVID-19 risk.

All group activities at the Audain Art Museum—including daily and private Walk & Talk Tours, Spring Break Camps, Family Studio Sundays, youth and adult art making workshops, yoga and other special events—have been suspended until March 31. The museum remains open during regular hours.

The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre will be closed until at least March 24, and a Cheakamus Community Forest open house scheduled for March 16 is also cancelled. WORCA announced on March 15 that the Bike Swap and Open House planned for April 4 is off.

" ... We will definitely not be able to run the Bike Swap on April 4th. If the COVID-19 situation improves over the next month, we might consider rescheduling to a later date if that is possible," WORCA executive director Trevor Ferrao said in an email.

As well, the Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub announced on March 15 that it is closing until further notice.

That said, Resort Municipality of Whistler facilities remained open as of Sunday afternoon at the direction of VCH, excluding the steam room and sauna at Meadow Park Sports Centre.

"This is all changing extremely quickly, and I won't guess what will take place related to this pandemic next week, or the week after that," Crompton said on March 14.

-with files from Dan Falloon


On March 13, BC Hydro announced a customer assistance program for customers experiencing financial hardship due to the virus.

"We recognize the financial impact COVID-19 may have on our customers due to changes in employment from workplaces closing," said BC Hydro president and CEO Chris O'Riley, in a release.

"In addition, some customers may experience higher electricity bills due to increased consumption from spending more time at home."

BC Hydro's customer assistance plan gives customers the option to defer bill payments or set up flexible payment plans with no penalty.

Customers facing temporary financial hardship may also be eligible for BC Hydro's customer crisis fund, which provides access to grants up to $600 to help pay bills.

Call 1-800-224-9376 for more info.

Find more info here:

Find the latest from the RMOW at

It's been an eventful couple of days in Whistler—read more local COVID-19 coverage at the links below:

-RMOW to open emergency operations centre:

-Whistler Blackcomb to close until March 22:

-Two confirmed cases in Pemberton:

-WSSF on pause:

Check back with Pique for more as this story continues to develop.