VANCOUVER -- There is confusion, complaints about lack of communication and some inconsistency over how Vail Resorts is processing refunds on pre-paid passes after Whistler Blackcomb was forced to close because of the pandemic. Last year, Vail issued credits, but this year the resort put a claims company in charge of handling refunds and that has left some customers out in the cold.

“I don’t have a lot of ski days left in my legs so I want to take advantage of them,” said Joe Bell of North Vancouver.

Bell has been a long time pass holder at Whistler Blackcomb but this past year he purchased a five-day Edge Card for $500 and had three days left on the card when the resort was forced to shut down March 30.

“I was going to go the next day, until the mountain closed,” said Bell.

He filed an online claim for a refund with ACM, the company processing refunds for the resort, but says he is frustrated by the lack of response.

“There’s no communication really,” explained Bell.

Chris Stephens and his family, who live in Toronto, were going to fly in for spring skiing after having to rebook twice because of restrictions in Ontario. He bought five-day Edge Cards for the family at a cost of about $2,200 and was not able to use the passes at all.

“It feels like we have been left in the lurch,” he said.

After Whistler Blackcomb closed, Stephens got an email indicating he would not get any money back because, “reservations for dates after the Core Season ends on April 4, 2021, are not eligible for Epic Coverage, per the Epic Coverage terms and conditions.” 

Based on the lengthy terms and conditions, Bell would not get any money back either because the closure due to COVID-19 had to be at least seven days or longer. The resort closed March 30, which left just six days in the core season. Spring skiers like Bell were out of luck. Bell, who says he has been buying passes at Whistler Blackcomb since the early 80s, is not impressed.

“Doesn’t count for much I guess,” he said.

In an email to CTV News, Vail Resorts stated that had Mr. Bell booked priority reservation days when he bought his Edge Card, for days that fell within the last six days of the core season, he would be eligible for a proportional refund.

However, there has been inconsistency in how refunds are processed. While the name Epic Coverage may imply it is an insurance product, it is not. Vail Resorts says it is a refund policy. Vail is in charge of providing the refunds and can make changes at will.

For instance, in March David Francis and his family from Coquitlam had decided to forego skiing in order to follow travel advisories issued by the province. However, ACM denied their claim for a refund on their Edge Cards. The language of the Epic Coverage indicated mandatory orders needed to be in place.

There was push back from customers like Francis and subsequently, originally denied claims were paid.

In addition, Vail Resorts tells CTV News, “...We also issued discretionary credits to certain pass holders who did not use their pass at all this season.”

In the Stephens family's case, Vail Resorts said it looked like their claim was denied because “it wasn’t a timely submission” under Epic Coverage but the timeline for certain refund requests has been extended and he will get a refund.

“It was only getting the news through you that we find out that we are getting this refund,” Stephens said. “But this is obviously a wonderful piece of news for us and I hope it gets extended to many other frustrated skiers out there.”

I am one of those Whistler Blackcomb skiers who will not be getting a refund. I had three days left on my five-day Edge Card and had reserved three days in April that fell outside the core season. I like to ski a couple of days early in the year and save the remainder for spring skiing. Clearly, this approach did not work and I will lose about $300 value on my card.

Vail has reduced pass prices 20 per cent next season but if you’re planning on buying a pass for Whistler Blackcomb next year, you still need to consider when you like to ski, read all the terms and conditions of the Epic Coverage, and if we are in a pandemic situation choose your pass option carefully. Ski early and ski often to ensure you get the full value out of your pass and if you are a late season skier like me, you might just want to pay as you go and buy daily lift passes.