WHISTLER, B.C. -- The largest ski resort in North America on Thursday announced plans for a ski season unlike any other, with the goal, it said, of staying open the entire season.

In a first, Whistler Blackcomb, which is owned by Vail Resorts, said it will now require reservations for skiers and snowboarders.

“It’s going to be a different experience. It’s going to be a behavioural change for people who are used to getting up on the mountain, and getting up and getting at it,” said Marc Riddell, director of communications for the West Coast for Vail Resorts.

The changes – which include physical distancing in lift lines and wearing face coverings while loading, riding and unloading both gondolas and chairlifts – are in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vail Resorts initially closed Whistler Blackcomb for a week in mid-March, but within days shut the mountain down for the remainder of the season.

When it comes to reservations, Riddell told CTV News the resort will prioritize Epic Pass holders, whether they purchase a pass for the entire season or a shorter period of time. Holders of Edge Cards for 2, 5, or 10 days, or a new product called a Whistler Blackcomb day pass – which has pass perks like discounts, while daily lift tickets do not – will also get priority.

Starting in early November, pass holders will be able to reserve up to seven days of skiing online during the mountain’s “core season,” which runs from Dec. 8 through April 4.

Pass holders will be able to reserve additional days as they use existing reservations and to make changes to reservations without fees. They can also decide not to ski at the last minute.

“If you don’t show up, it’s not going to come off your product,” Riddell said.

The guidelines are slightly different for the mountain’s opening weeks and for reservations booked for ski days within the same week, allowing for avid skiers to potentially watch the forecast in search of the perfect powder day.

Regular lift tickets will go on sale in December, and will only be sold online, not at ticket windows.

Riddell added while he doesn’t think it’s likely the resort will sell out, that’s a possibility on peak weekends and holidays.

Along with its sister resorts, Whistler Blackcomb will ask skiers and boarders to only ride gondolas and chairs with their own bubble.

Singles will be physically distanced in gondola cabins or on quad chairs, and on six-pack chairs like the Harmony and Emerald lifts, two couples from different bubbles will be permitted to ride together with two empty seats between them.

Face coverings are not required while skiing, but will be mandatory in every lift line.

Alisa McInnis from Langley called it “tough” for the children in her bubble who are 13, eight, seven, and three to always wear masks, but called the policy “understandable.”

“I think in the ski season a lot of times there’s those fabric masks you can wear, so it might be a little bit different, a little bit easier,” McInnis said.

Marjorie Healey from Vancouver, who also has children, called the concept of reservations “creative” but asked if the mountain should have gone further by requiring skiers and boarders to book upload times.

“How are they all going to manage us all showing up at the same time with our bubbles loading? And how quickly and efficiently can they get us up the mountain?” Healey asked.

Riddell said the resort expects far fewer “destination” visitors this year, which should alleviate some of the crowding concerns.

He also pointed to physical distancing and mask measures that had worked well during mountain bike and hiking season during the summer.

"We want to ensure that we have a season that starts and a season that finishes," Riddell said.

Weather permitting, Whistler Blackcomb is preparing to open for skiing and riding Nov. 26.