Big White Ski Resort cancels hundreds of reservations in response to COVID-19 cluster | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Big White Ski Resort cancels hundreds of reservations in response to COVID-19 cluster

Big White
December 18, 2020 - 2:30 PM

Big White Ski Resort’s cancellation of all reservations made by people from outside the Central Okanagan was about making a statement, according to the ski hill's senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingal.

But that action makes up only a small part of the financial damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic since 80 per cent of such reservations for the Christmas and new year period had already been cancelled by the skiers themselves. It also won’t stop all of those out-of-town and out-of-province skiers from going to Big White.

The decision to cancel the reservations up until Jan. 8, was made by Big White's owners after a cluster of positive COVID-19 tests amongst 60 people either working at or associated with the resort. That number grew to 76 today, Dec. 18.

“What frustrates us, is everybody should be playing by the rules,” Ballingal said. By playing by the rules, he is referring to people using masks, hand sanitizer, staying six feel apart and not travelling outside their local area.

"So, our ownership group said, our mountain’s not going anywhere. We’re going to be here forever. In order to do the right thing, which has cost us millions of dollars, cancel those reservations. Make a statement."

READ MORE: Another 16 cases of COVID-19 confirmed at Big White Ski Resort

In mid-November, after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised against non-essential travel, customers started cancelling their reservations. When she extended restriction to Jan. 8, “we had a flood,” Ballingal said. A few more cancelled when positive cases at the resort were announced last week.

“After we had our first debrief with Interior Health, we felt we should do a deep dive through our reservation system,” Ballingal said. “We found that approximately 20 per cent of the total reservations for Christmas and New Year’s hadn’t been cancelled so we cancelled them yesterday and we’re not very popular.”

The cancellations don’t mean those people, who come from as far away as Toronto, are staying home. Some immediately booked other accommodation on the mountain, Ballingal said.

Big White has about 450 “doors” on the mountain out of 2,300 dwellings, 1,700 of which are commercially rented, he said

The resort is still taking reservations from locals but not enough to fill the gap. Big White's share of accommodation on the hill was only 81 per cent booked through the holiday season before people started cancelling.

Since the cluster of COVID-19 cases grew to 60, Big White terminated about half a dozen employees. They had all signed employment agreements saying they would follow COVID-19 rules.

READ MORE: Big White Ski Resort fires staff over COVID-19 cluster

Initially, they agreed to the terms electronically then managers recently reviewed them with staff and had them sign a paper copy so there was no doubt that they understood the rules, Ballingal said, but some were more interested in the social life than the work life on the mountain so they’re now gone.

There are about 650 people working for Big White, 55 per cent of its workforce during a normal winter.

As for the people in the COVID-19 cluster, some were not employees on the mountain and less than half actually worked for Big White, Ballingal said. The rest worked for other employers on the mountain.

All the Big White staff who tested positive, or were in contact with those that did, are self isolating. Some in single rooms but some in apartments with up to three people who were sharing accommodation before, he said. They are being fed three meals a day and their pay is being covered by government support programs.

Testing continues and Interior Health has set up a mobile unit at the resort.

Ballingal stressed that the hill is safe for skiers and that was also stated in an Interior Health news release issued today.

Lineups will appear long but that’s because people will be safe distancing, Ballingal said, and while some food services are closed or restricted to counter service, more of the mountain has opened to skiing and snowboarding.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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