Deep Breaths…Whistler Blackcomb’s new reservation policy is probably not the end of the world.
by Feet Banks
On Thursday Aug 27, Vail resorts announced their new pandemic safety measures for the upcoming ski season. There will be social distancing initiatives all over the mountain (including on chairlifts and gondolas) and face coverings are mandatory (yes your regular balaclava/neck tube/bandana is fine). The food offerings will be much different (goodbye Fresh Tracks buffet) and health screening is required for ski school lessons. In the “new reality” of COVID-land, it’s all fairly easy to understand and get behind for any objective, rational person.
The new Reservation System…not so much. The internet lit up with confusion and consternation almost immediately once the memo was released announcing that season passholders need to book ahead and reserve spots for the days they wanted to shred.
Comments ranged from “I want to reserve all the pow days, please” to “guess I’m buying a snowmobile.” Rather than throw the pow-babies out with the bathwater, Mountain Life called up Vail’s West Coast Director of Communications, Marc Riddell at his home in Pemby in hopes of gaining some clarity on the new system and just what it means for local riders.
Mountain Life: Let’s start off with an easy one, will both mountains be open next season?
Marc Riddell: Yes, absolutely. That was a weird rumour that started and has no basis in reality. We are one resort, everything is open all or nothing.
ML: That’s sweet. What can you tell me about the new reservation system?
Marc: Well we did in all jurisdictions, the COVID scenario up here in BC is different than it is in Washington State which is different than Colorado. We needed an approach that was consistent across the board. So it started with things like physical distancing, the face masks, and then we got to a point where in order to manage safety, we need to manage volumne. And the reservation system will allow us to know when we need to regulate volume and the flow in order to maintain those safety measures.
ML Everyone is freaked that it might mean someone that lives here in town won’t be allowed to go up on a pow day. Could that happen?
Marc: Here’s what the Boss (WB Chief Operating Officer Geoff Buchheister) has to say:
“Whistler Blackcomb is North America’s largest resort and we feel confident that for the vast majority of days, we’ll have plenty of capacity.”
I think people need to realize that Whistler Blackcomb is a lot bigger than some of Vails other resorts, but the system is the same for all of them. Up here we are known for managing capacity and it appears there will be less destination visitors coming from overseas or the US than normal. I don’t think we will be hitting capacity that often. The system is not set up to limit anyone’s access to the mountain, it’s there for us to manage safety.
ML: Can we get hard numbers? like what is the maximum capacity number and how does that compare to an average weekend attendance from prior years?
Marc: I don’t have numbers like that yet but we had planned a similar system this summer for the Bike Park and we never ended up needing to use it. The system is set up so pass-holders are a priority. if we need to limit access to the mountain, we will stop selling day tickets that day.
ML: So each passholder gets seven “priority days” they can reserve before December 7. Those can be any day of the season. It might be Christmas for some, or all of Spring Break, or whatever. For me it will probably be 7 Mondays, ‘cause that is the day my kid skips school and we shred.
Marc: That’s right, and after you use the first Monday, you can reserve another priority day. It’s a like a bank account. Once you use a day it goes back into your bank to be reassigned.
ML: And then I also have 7 “week-of” days I can reserve any day within the next 7 days. So if I know I’m gonna ski on a weekend, I can reserve it the weekend before.
Marc: Correct you could go on every Sunday night and reserve every day of the week if you wanted.
ML: And if its puking on wed night and I want to go the next morning I can reserve it that nght, or even first thing on the morning of?
Marc: So long as there is space within the capacity yes?
ML: And everyone on your end seems to think that “Usually” there will be space within the capacity?
Marc: We do. We can’t know for sure, but I think people will get it once we start. As well, we are definitely seeing how it goes. We just want to get the resort open and stay open. Here’s another quote from Geoff Buchheister, “There is a chance we may be able to remove the reservation system during the season – but we feel strongly that having this system in place early, will allow us to deliver a season from start to finish.”
ML: What if reserve a day, either one of my 7 “priorities” or my “week-of’s” but the highway is closed or I get sick and can’t make it. Am I penalized for not going up?
Marc: No, whether you go up or not makes no difference. Once that date passes, you get an open slot back in your bank account and you can reserve another day.
ML: It’s making more sense. Basically, if everyone puts in a bit of effort and stays on top of their reservations, it sounds like we will all get most, or even all, the days we want and it helps keep everyone safe and the mountains open.
Marc: That is what we hope too. There is still so much to figure out, the restaurants are going to change—food will have to be packaged, no more bowls of ramen. I think it’s all going to have an 80’s ski hill vibe to it and that could make for a lot of good times.
ML: That does sounds kind of awesome. Is there anything else you want people to know?
Marc: For the casual skier in the lower mainland, there’s a new option to pre-buy up to ten day passes, that gets you into the reservation system rather than showing up and rolling the dice, and the more you buy the more you save off the window price. One final thing to add is that we are always looking for staff. Employees and their dependants are exempt from the reservation system. So with an employee pass you don’t need to make a reservation.
ML: Isn’t that ironic for the ski bums out there—this year the only way to ensure you can ski every day of the winter is to get a job.
Marc: Well, get a job for your spouse is probably the best.
ML: Bingo! Thanks Marc. We’ll see you up there!
(Here’s the link to the WB Announcement.)
Great info thanks. 2 more questions for Marc though. 1.Are the other Vail resorts able to prebook in Whistler, even if the boarder is closed?
2.what if capacity is full with no availability on the hill and the highway closes, will more spots become available?
Still does not really explain issue of no shows. If reservations are all full, I don’t drive up from Vancouver in the morning. Then a bunch of people no show and they open up window ticket sales on the hill?
With no penalty for a no-show, what’s to stop everyone from pre-reserving every day of the upcoming week on every Sunday night of the season? Seems like a likely scenario for how this could fail. Every day would be fully booked but only a fraction of the reservers would ever show up.