Mandatory masks, changes to lift line etiquette and new safety precautions at the lodge are among the changes visitors can expect when the season begins at Whitewater Ski Resort.
The resort, which began selling season passes Tuesday, will require all staff and guests to wear face masks when they are inside the lodge, ski and guest services buildings. Whitewater’s indoor operations manager Rebeckah Hornung said the resort considered provincial health rules and its own services before deciding to make masks mandatory.
“We just looked at the whole operation and what would be the most safe way to operate in terms of keeping our community safe, and we just decided that face masks indoors would be that option,” said Hornung.
How Whitewater defines masks, she said, is still being discussed. Balaclavas, scarves and neck gaiters may cover the nose and mouth, but Hornung said more research is required prior to the season on whether those types of coverings adequately replace medical and fabric masks.
When guests are inside the lodge, they’ll be asked to keep a mask on until they are seated at a table. The normally raucous lodge will also have its capacity reduced, tables spread out and plastic barriers installed. Hornung added the resort is also considering offering food and beverage services in the area outside the lodge.
Peter Lonergan, Whitewater’s sales and marketing director, said staff are working to maintain the lodge’s atmosphere despite the different look.
“I don’t necessarily think we’re going to lose it,” said Lonergan. “Obviously there’s going to be a change, but that vibe comes from the people and the skiing and I don’t think that’s changed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Whitewater to close in March three weeks prior to its final day of operations. Other B.C. resorts including Rossland’s Red Mountain soon followed suit.
When skiers and snowboarders return to Whitewater, they’ll notice changes outdoors as well.
Lift lines will be altered, and guests will be encouraged to ride with their friends and family instead of sharing seats with people they don’t know, which in turn might mean some chairs occupied by only one person. Hornung said how lift lines will work is still being researched across the ski resort industry.
“I don’t think it’ll have a huge impact,” she said. “But we also haven’t really seen the protocols from industry yet specifically on that. We haven’t really got a full answer on that.”
Lonergan said there will be an adjustment, and more patience, required of guests to make the lines flow safely.
“It’s really going to be getting people used to the change and just working with our staff and each other to make it as smooth as possible,” he said.
If international travel remains restricted in December, when Whitewater typically opens, the backgrounds of staff and clientele will also change.
Hornung said employment is generally made up of 60-to-80 per cent local residents. She said the resort has begun accepting applications, which are slightly down in numbers, and that she’ll know more in the coming weeks when hiring begins.
Lonergan meanwhile said the resort isn’t sure who its visitors from outside the West Kootenay will be. Even if the American border remains closed, he said, Whitewater could still see a rise in Canadian tourists.
“I do personally believe we’re on the bucket list of a lot of people within B.C. as well. So I do think we’ll see that we’ll see visitations from the province.”
Annual events like the Coldsmoke Powder Festival meanwhile will continue, although Lonergan said the running of the junior freeski competition will depend in part on a decision by the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association, which runs the sport.
Hornung said Whitewater will also have a lesson program, but how it will look is still being worked out. She said the resort is also waiting to hear from School District 8 if local class visits will continue.
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