The 'Wonder' year 

Whistler Blackcomb 'what's new' list for season includes Wonderground campaign, focus on families

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While the rain and warm temperatures resulted in a bit of a setback for Whistler Blackcomb, the reality is that a lot of snow has already fallen in the alpine and snowmaking crews took advantage of cooler temperatures in October to turn over 80 million litres of water into snow. Operations were halted temporarily during the recent warm spell, but will resume this week as the temperatures drop once again.

As of press time, Whistler Blackcomb is sticking with its official opening day of Nov. 22, although there's a good chance they may open earlier than that.

"It's only November 5 and we've got another two-and-a-half weeks before opening day," said Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler Blackcomb. "We're usually pretty good by then, and in fact we've opened early almost every year that I've been here... In 13 years we've opened on our official opening day once and we've opened early 12 times."

This opening day, skiers and boarders will notice a few changes on the mountain.

The first, and most obvious, is the creation of Wonder Routes around the mountain — a system of themed landmarks and maps to guide people around the largest mountain resort in North America.

"We've built some new Wonder locations on the mountains," explained Rempel. "There's an Inukshuk on Harmony Ridge, at the top of 7th Heaven and above the Crystal Hut, and the carved ravens and signage on top of Symphony. Most of the locations will have free Wifi presented by Telus, so when people are at these viewpoints they can share photos with their friends, whether it's the peak of Whistler or the Roundhouse roll."

The Wonder Routes are a system of self-guided tours between scenic spots on the mountains that appeal to different types of visitors that might otherwise have no idea where to start. It's a chance for visitors to orient themselves with the terrain, learn about Whistler and ride that first chairlift with a goal in mind.

"We have a powder stash route, and an Olympic wonder route — what we're calling the Gold Medal Route — and the Top of the World Route which includes all of the major peaks," said Rempel. "There's a Size Matters route, which has all the longest runs on Whistler and Blackcomb."

Rempel said the routes were based on signage at larger European resorts that sometimes straddle multiple towns and even countries that are hours apart by road.

"It's such a massive resort and some of the people who come here are a little apprehensive to go too far, especially with our wild weather," he said. "So we've developed routes that link up amazing wonders and experiences."

The "Wonder" program also includes videos produced locally by Switchback Entertainment and Sherpa Cinemas (the first two are online at wonder.whistlerblackcomb.com), the Wonder Struck Contest for seven days in Whistler, and weekly "Map Your Wonders" giveaways.

As well as the "Wonder" program, skiers and snowboarders will notice an enhanced focus on families and kids through the mountains' new "Family Certified" program.

"People will come and notice that the tree fort and castle have both been renovated and refreshed," said Rempel. "These are icons for us, and we're the only ski resort with a Merlin's castle and tree fort just for kids. We're also working on an area called the Enchanted Forest, an area just off the Emerald Chair in the trees. There's also a new area called The Schoolyard where the old Pontiac Race Centre used to be, which will be a training centre for kids and school programs, with a few features for the kids to learn on."

The Bear Cub run will have a new bear den for kids with signage, as well as other kid-friendly features, while other areas of the mountain will have family certified "family skiing zones that are welcoming for kids and families."

That new family theme will be carried into the lodges as well with new menu items for kids that are smaller and healthier.

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