Record skier visits bring record traffic tie-ups
On Christmas Day, 30 centimetres of snow fell in the Whistler Valley. Then the sun came out and glorious blue sky surrounded Whistler as far as the eye could see — a combination that brought skiers, shoppers and holidayers in droves as Whistler enjoyed a record-breaking holiday season.
With the Canadian dollar dipping to near all-time lows and the ski conditions and weather at an all-time high, both Whistler and Blackcomb reported record breaking skier visits over the holiday season. According to David Perry, Whistler Mountain's marketing director, over 11,000 skiers hit the slopes of Whistler Dec. 29 — the highest single day total in the history in the mountain.
"We have been blessed with the correct combination of conditions and weather," Perry says. "When that happens it seems the stars are aligned for record days and it happened."
Over on Blackcomb, a computer glitch means exact skier number are not available yet, but according to Sue Bayley-Cudmore, public relations co-ordinator, numbers for this season have broken previous records.
"Once again, the Christmas season has broken the previous record," Bayley-Cudmore says. "December 28 and 29 were both record-breaking days."
With around 25,000 skiers on the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb there was only one real problem — traffic.
Highway 99 looked more like Granville Street during rush hour than a tranquil mountain highway. With bumper-to-bumper traffic from Village Gate Boulevard to the Creekside, Perry said the conditions can be the best in the world, but if it takes skiers two hours to get from the village to Function Junction that is the Whistler experience they are going to take home with them.
"A serious examination of traffic flow problems on peak days has to be done," Perry says. "It's not the visitors who are staying in the resort that are having a bad experience with traffic, it's the Lower Mainland day skiers who get caught."
The crux of the problem, according to Assistant Municipal Engineer Dave Waldron, is all of the traffic coming from Blackcomb, the day skier lots and the village trying to get into one southbound lane on Highway 99 — all at the same time.
"We have one heck of a bottleneck there," Waldron says. "You don't need to be an expert to figure out that the more lanes you get going into one, the more back up you are going to get. The highway just doesn't have the capacity to handle that type of volume."
RCMP, the bylaw enforcement department and both mountains had to scramble to provide traffic controllers and the Ministry of Highways, in conjunction with the municipality, erected a new set of signs along the highway to direct drivers to less congested areas.
Waldron says the extension of Blackcomb Way to Nancy Greene Drive and the widening of Lorimer Road to four lanes from the new clinic to Highway 99 will alleviate some of the bottlenecks in the next few years.
"We are working with the Ministry of Transportation and Highways to find solutions to the traffic problems," Waldron says. "It's not like were just ignoring the problem and saying 'tough luck.' We're always looking for solutions."