COVID-19 rules, cases mean early end to ski season at Whistler, Revelstoke and Big White

A three-week "circuit breaker" imposed by the province means a popular B.C. ski resort was effectively closed early this year, and two other resorts have decided to close early for pandemic-related reasons as well.

In a post on its website, Revelstoke Mountain Resort said Wednesday that the early end to its 2020-21 season is "attributed to COVID-19 circumstances."

Vice-president of operations Peter Nielsen thanked those who'd followed safety protocols during the shortened season, allowing the hill to stay open as long as it did.

The public is reminded that access to the mountain is prohibited when the resort is closed.

Anyone with unused lift tickets is asked to contact the resort by email for a full refund or credit toward the 2021-22 season.

Also announced Wednesday is an early closure at Big White Ski Resort southeast of Kelowna.

Nothing is closed yet, but the resort's senior vice-president told CTV News that the season will end Monday at 4 p.m., six days earlier than planned.

In an interview, Michael Ballingall said the decision followed an "unprecedented amount of inquiries" about reservations from people who live in the Lower Mainland, meaning they'd be travelling to squeeze in their last few days of skiing and snowboarding.

"We simply do not want to take the chance that people will travel to the only ski resort remaining open in the western part of the province," he said.

Ballingall said staff have not accepted bookings from people who live outside of the Central Okanagan since mid-December, but that there's been an increase in calls and online traffic, as well as requests for short-term rental accommodations on sites like Airbnb, which are accepting bookings.

And in an email to CTV News, Whistler Blackcomb said its slopes will not reopen for the season when just-introduced restrictions are lifted.

Among the temporary new rules put in place this week as part of what B.C.'s top doctor called a "circuit breaker" is the closure of the resort for three weeks. Under the restrictions announced Monday, the site operated by Vail Resorts cannot reopen until April 19.

But it's "core season" was already slated to end on April 4, a notice to guests read. The same notice said reservations made up to April 19 have been cancelled, and the terms and conditions of its coverage plan say the core season ends April 17, so it's unclear exactly when the season was supposed to end.

A spokesperson told CTV News it will not extend the season to make up three weeks of lost time.

CTV News asked Vail whether the company would provide refunds or credits to those who were waiting to see if Whistler would reopen after April 19, but a spokesperson did not answer the question, sending a statement only that the resort will remain closed.

A question about refunds to those whose reservations were cancelled, including lift reservations, ski school and dining, was also unanswered.

So, despite the hiccup introduced by Dr. Bonnie Henry, anyone who planned to apply for a refund or credit this year over the impact of COVID-19 should aim to do so by Sunday to make sure they get their money back.

And there's no guarantee pass-holders will get money back. Whistler has a formula which reduces credit based on the holder's number of visits in a season, so some may get no refund.

Earlier this month, Whistler Blackcomb expanded a refund program for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Anyone who bought a pass this season was provided with what Vail calls "Epic Coverage," a free insurance package that covers them in the event that they cannot use their passes for a variety of reasons.

In an email to CTV News Vancouver's McLaughlin on Your Side team, the resort's director of communications said this package was expanded to include coverage for those abiding by Dr. Henry's plea to avoid non-essential travel during the pandemic. 

Initially, some may have had their claims denied, but Marc Riddel said customers should be getting emails saying the decision was reversed. Claims can also be filed online

And last week, in an attempt to woo skiers and snowboarders who found the hills unaffordable, the company announced a 20 per cent price reduction on all passes for next year's season.

Still, an unlimited season pass will set an adult skier or snowboarder back $1,119, down from the original $1,399.

The company's full Epic Pass costs about $985 at the current exchange rate. With the same calculation, it's local Epic Pass is about $733 for an adult.

A spokesperson for Vail Resorts said the price drop is reflective of what skiers paid back in 2015-16.

She was asked whether the reduction was just giving back some of the money Vail kept on value-remaining passes from 2019-20, when COVID-19 first shut down Whistler. The question was not directly answered.

Instead, Danielle Johnson said in an email that the change was a way to honour pass-holder loyalty and incentivize future purchases.

With reports from CTV News Vancouver's Ross McLaughlin and Espe Currie