Big White’s online ticket platform went kaput twice on Sunday night.
It was in the last hours to buy a season’s pass with early bird rates, and the senior vice-president of the resort, Michael Ballingall, said the rush of traffic took the site down.
“There were over 200 people a minute trying to buy their pass and it’s just not designed for that,” he said.
People are used to Amazon and other online stores, he said, but “this is not that” and the high volume of last-minute traffic was bound to be an issue.
“We’ve been doing this since June and the last day was our busiest day,” he said.
Big White issued an apology for those who were frustrated and extended the early bird rate.
“We were going to extend it 24 hours but thought, it will crash again, so let’s make it (until Friday),” he said. “We have time on our side and next year we’ll have whole new software.”
The expectation is that Big White will sell the same number of season’s passes as last year, but not necessarily break any records, given the potential continued loss of visitors from abroad. That intense amount of last-minute interest, however, will likely reflect another year with a strong local presence on the mountain.
“It’s always been like that,” he said. “We’ve been popular with the locals, since the beginning.”
It’s a clientele they want to keep happy, thus the early bird pricing extension and other quick adaptations as needed.
“I’ve been doing this since 1986, and when beer was too expensive, we lowered the price. When the chicken cordon bleu got too small we went back to a bigger size. Because it’s a family-owned business, decisions are made quickly.”
Ballingall said that mistakes are made but being the only family-run mountain left standing in Canada is a point of pride and they make decisions based on market needs accordingly.
“We know generations of families use this resort. We see three generations on a lift having fun together, getting the big table at the restaurant and having a big outing,” he said.
For the time being, however, Ballingall is now turning his attention to other things, like traffic up and down the mountain.
There will be no express bus running from town, so he is hoping to see carpooling pick up this year. Last year, due to the pandemic and the lack of vaccines, many people were just driving up the mountain solo. They may be more able to expand their bubbles this year.
Also, the skating rink is back open and that will take away some of last year’s parking space. Tubing also is returning this year.
While much is starting to return to normal, the pandemic is still a concern that made getting staff a more complicated and competitive process.
There is also a list of precautions that have to be taken when headed up the mountain. Skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor activities will not require proof of vaccination, but wearing a mask is still recommended when physically distancing of at least two meters cannot be maintained in an outdoor setting.
Restaurants with sit-down table service do require proof of vaccination for anyone over the age of 12. Cafeterias and quick service cafeterias (licensed and unlicensed) in day lodges are not subject to proof of vaccination. Retail services and public washrooms in day lodges also do not require proof of vaccination. Privately owned resort restaurants may check for proof of vaccination at the door entry or table.
For all the precautions, skiing is still an escape.
“The one thing we have heard is that people say it’s ‘the only thing we can do that is normal,’” Ballingall said.
“Once you get to the top of the lift, you just get to ski and snowboard.”
That’s likely why participation rates for the freestyle club, ski club and snowboard club have increased.
“It’s a wonderful story in the way … because of COVID, and you couldn’t go anywhere a lot of people reverted back,” Ballingall said.
For those who want to head up the mountain, the Big White Ski Club is hosting the 50th Ski Board and Sport Swap to be held Friday, Oct. 22 and Saturday, Oct. 23 at the New Life Church at 2041 Harvey Ave. (behind MEC).
Last year the swap was cancelled due to COVID-19 but it’s back this year, offering pre-owned equipment for both kids and adults, combined with a wide assortment of new clothing, equipment and accessories from several retailers.
“It’s an unbelievable one-stop-shopping opportunity for getting fully and affordably outfitted for the winter season. It is also a great way to clean out your garage or storage shed and sell your gently used equipment and clothing,” board member Dave Willoughby said in a press release. “We also have a great consignment system which allows sellers to register online before arriving Friday to consign their goods.”
Funds raised through this annual two-day event, run by volunteers, are utilized to help support Big White Ski Club, a non-profit organization that for over 60 years has provided world-class alpine ski training.
Volunteering for the event also gives people the first pick of great gear. Volunteers are invited to the Buy Night held Friday, Oct. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m., giving access to equipment and deals before it’s opened to the public.
For more information on the swap or how to consign online, or to volunteer, visit www.bigwhiteskiclub.com.