Business staying steady despite poor weather conditions 

Weatherproofing Whistler on municipality's radar

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BUZZARD / WWW.MEDIA-CENTRE.CA - Weather woes High water levels seen on Friday, Feb. 6 at the River of Golden Dreams.
  • Photo by David Buzzard /
  • Weather woes High water levels seen on Friday, Feb. 6 at the River of Golden Dreams.

Helped along by back-to-back long weekends, business in Whistler has been steady despite the less-than-favourable weather conditions.

But the inclement weather, coming almost exactly a year after a similar event, is keeping the issue of weatherproofing Whistler on the municipality's radar.

"There have been many initiatives along that regard," said Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden this week.

"Things like the outdoor skating rink, this year we've got snow guns at the Whistler Olympic Plaza so that there's snow hills for the kids and the families. The family initiative that goes on twice a week helps with weatherproofing and then of course there's all kinds of events over the fall and winter, such as Cornucopia, the Whistler Film Festival, Whistler Pride, Whistler Ski and Snowboard Festival."

The family après event at the Plaza was expanded to two nights this year — last year an average of 500 people attended.

Wilhelm-Morden said it's not unusual for the resort to go through a few years of bad weather.

"I've been here for 41 years, and you know, it has been the case where you've had a couple of bad seasons in a row to be followed by two or three mammoth seasons, so it is part of the weather pattern," she said.

"That said, I'm not a climate change denier, not by any stretch, and we have to be cognizant of climate change and what we can do here in Whistler to give our best efforts to pay attention to that."

Part of preparing for a new reality around climate is looking at poor weather mitigation strategies — something the resort has identified as an action item in its Economic Partnership Initiative.

The municipality is continuing to develop a Poor Weather Risk Mitigation Plan, which was identified as a medium-term (six-month to two-year) action from the Economic Partnership Initiative last year — the plan has been included in the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Economic Development Officer's work plan for 2015, pending approval by Council through the budget process.

There is also Resort Municipality Initiative funding designated for the Whistler Conference Centre expansion study as part of the work to grow conference bookings thereby growing room nights in the shoulder seasons.

According to Environment Canada, nearly 40 millimetres of rain fell on Friday, Feb. 6, leading to some concerns of flooding in the valley. A sandbag station was set up at the Public Works Yard, though no residents turned up to take advantage of the equipment.

The rain, however, translated to heavy snowfall at alpine elevations, said Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing and sales with Whistler Blackcomb (WB).

"Our alpine got hammered with snow through this last storm," Rempel said.

"So it may have been wet and warm down here... but the snowpack in the alpine is in fact better than it was a year ago at the same time."

Other ski areas in the region haven't been so fortunate as of late.

On Monday, Mount Washington Alpine Resort announced it would suspend operations until further notice, while Mount Seymour and Cypress Mountain are in a similar situation.

Hemlock Valley Resort has cancelled its entire season.

Meanwhile, Whistler Blackcomb did over 20,000 visits on Sunday, Feb. 8, Rempel said.

"That would be a really good Sunday in the winter," he said.

"I think that's definitely (due to) the fact that the Lower Mainland mountains are challenged."

Rempel is hopeful that conditions will improve not only for Whistler, but other ski areas in the region as well.

"We need those areas to be successful, so hopefully we'll see them come back. The whole West Coast is challenged all the way from California through British Columbia," he said.

"It's better for our tourism economy, and our resort economy, if they're successful."

The strong occupancy seen over the Family Day long weekend — 90 per cent on Friday and Saturday and 80 per cent on Sunday, according to Rempel — is expected to carry over to the U.S. Presidents' Day long weekend, Feb.14-16.

"We're looking at a very, very strong Presidents' Day weekend," Rempel said.

"We've got close to a 160-centimetre base. We've got lots of skiing in the alpine. We'll see this storm blow through and I'm sure that people will come here and have a great time."

Whistler's hotels are weathering the storm as well.

"I think there's been quite a bit of group business that was confirmed a long time in advance for a lot of properties, so that's caused a bit of compression," said Stephen Webb, chair of the hotel association and general manager of the Hilton.

"Sometimes folks, they've made plans further out, and coming from further afield it's difficult to change them based on weather, so it hasn't really been an impact in February for sure."

While there's always bound to be a few cancellations, Webb said they haven't been many based solely on weather conditions.

"Obviously they're not as happy, but I haven't heard many direct complaints," he said.

"I think most people realize that the weather is something that can't be controlled."

And according to Larry Falcon, store manager at Escape Route, visitors to the store were "all smiles" despite the rain.

"They're happy, because they're on a holiday. I think a lot of people really take advantage of it as a family day," Falcon said.

"There was very little grumbling. It was good."

And the rainy conditions led to increased sales at Escape Route.

"Oh no question. We sold a lot of Gortex," Falcon said with a laugh.

"The family holiday, it's a great holiday, and with what WB does with its 50 per cent off tickets on the Monday, it certainly has a positive impact to traffic flow."



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