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Whistler Blackcomb’s Fitzsimmons Express opens for 2023-24 season

The new eight-pack chairlift opened to some light and polite fanfare on Dec. 12
The new Fitz chair on Whistler Mountain is expected to increase the lift’s capacity from 1,850 to 3,300 skiers per hour.

Whistler Mountain has a brand-new chairlift ready to ferry keen skiers and snowboarders up to mid-mountain, with the rebuilt Fitzsimmons Express opening to guests early on Dec. 12.

The new chairlift was more than a year in the making, following the initial announcement of new infrastructure last year, the demolition of the previous chairlift in March, and continual work through summer and into the beginning of the ski season.

A small gathering of mostly Whistler Blackcomb (WB) employees gathered in Skiers Plaza on Tuesday morning to hear a welcome from representatives of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), and WB’s chief operating officer, Belinda Trembath.

Halaw Brittani Smith and Seq Mallory Ritchie of the SLCC welcomed the gathering, recounted the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nation’s relationship with the land and history in the area, and sang the Lil’wat Nation’s friendship song to begin the ceremony.

In her remarks, Trembath expressed gratitude to WB’s winter and summer customers for their patience, and read off a long credit list of partner organizations, individuals and departments that threw their all into getting the project done and dusted in time for the holiday season.

“Importantly, this project could not have happened without the guidance and counsel of the First Nations partners,” said Trembath.

“It’s so important to us that their culture continues to be represented across these mountains in everything we do.”

In keeping with those sentiments, the new Fitzsimmons Express is emblazoned with First Nations names alongside its English name: In the Squamish language, it is known as Sk_wexwnách, for Valley Creek, and in the Lil’wat language, it is known as Tsíqten, which means Fish Spear.

New chairlifts are given First Nations names at Whistler Blackcomb as they are installed and opened.

Trembath described the installation of the Fitzsimmons chair as complex, but a worthy addition.

“This chairlift will improve the guest experience by reducing wait times, [improving] uphill flow, and increasing efficiency overall for our skiers and riders,” she said.

“And most importantly, when we transition into our summer bike park season I’m really excited to see how our bike park users will respond to the fantastic system that will allow five riders and five bikes up on each chair—certainly a vast improvement from their previous experience with this lift.”

A small line of keen skiers and snowboarders had formed by the time Trembath finished her remarks, with the first users headed up before 10 a.m. to meet the “variable” but still skiable conditions on the mountain in the early season.

Speaking to Pique afterwards, Trembath—who was named WB’s new COO in April—said getting a project like Fitzsimmons over the finish line felt fantastic.

“There’s always going to be challenges with installations, but given the complexity of this lift, it was an incredible effort for the team,” she said. “We’re open earlier than we expected and we’re really excited to have it open for the holiday season.”

The Fitzsimmons Express upgrade is expected to increase the lift’s capacity from 1,850 to 3,300 skiers per hour. WB’s lift ops team will continuously monitor uphill flow and adjust the operation of the new lift accordingly “to ensure optimal guest distribution,” WB said in a release announcing the opening.

“This includes looking at adjusting volume and speed to preserve the guest experience for those who choose to ride the chairlifts to access Whistler versus the gondolas.”

Trembath said officials are looking forward to the new chair taking pressure off the Whistler Village Gondola, but said so far crowds have been manageable.

“[We’re] pretty pleased with how the weekends have gone so far, but of course we’re moving into holiday season, and the team are doing everything we can to get more terrain open, and spread people out,” Trembath said.

“We’re really looking forward to a great Christmas season.”

The previous Fitzsimmons chair was originally installed in 1999, and was a quad chair. The chairlift that replaces the original was earmarked for Park City in Utah (another Vail Resorts-owned property), but a planning snafu kiboshed those plans, and WB got to benefit from Park City’s setback. The Jersey Cream chairlift, due to be replaced next year, is another derailed Park City project that got thrown Whistler’s way.

For each ride on Fitz on its opening day, Whistler Blackcomb Epic Promise donated $1 to support the work of the Whistler Community Services Outreach Team, according to the release.