There’s an incredibly dated scrolling text box on Vail Resorts’ corporate website that highlights the various mountain resorts in the company’s growing portfolio, and Whistler Blackcomb—the No. 1 ski resort in North America for countless years running—isn’t on the list. A lot of resorts aren’t, which suggests that the site is old and not really intended for the public. The copyright line at the bottom of the page says 2007, and it looks every year of it.
Click on the Investor link and you’ll go to a whole new website with a much more modern look. The media website is also newer and a bit different, as is snow.com—a site I had to navigate with one panicked thumb half a dozen times last season because I forgot to book in advance and the line was moving fast. The Whistler Blackcomb site is also unique, as are the web pages for the 36 other resorts in Vail Resorts’ portfolio.
I’m not trying to make Vail Resorts feel bad about its myriad websites—Bill Gates used to drive a Ford Focus to work after all—but to underline the fact that this company has a lot going on; too much to worry about creating a consistent look, colour palate, and user experience in the online world. Or to add Whistler Blackcomb to the ticker at vailresorts.com.
Whistler Blackcomb skiers and boarders, a noisy bunch of malcontents at the best of times, are used to putting ourselves first, of setting the trends for the entire industry. Now we’re just a small—but important cog—in a machine that spans four continents when you include resorts partnerships. Where we used to lead, we now take directions from an office in a Denver, Colo. suburb.
That doesn’t mean we’ve been wholly neglected. The recent announcement that the Creekside Gondola would be upgraded to eight seats and the Big Red Express to six shows that someone is paying attention. It took a COVID-19 line that stretched around Franz’s Trail and under Highway 99 to highlight the dire need, but at least the call is being answered.
But while the lift upgrades are reason to celebrate, there’s still a feeling among the locals I talk to that we’ve gotten off track somehow. We had plans. Big plans. Renaissance-scale plans. And given Whistler Blackcomb’s track record of doing the impossible there was no reason to believe that the dream wouldn’t come true.
Plans included a mountain coaster, a water park and bowling alley at Base II (along with a two-storey parking garage), and a bunch of new lifts—some of which made more sense than others.
The thing I cared the most about was the creation of a new night skiing zone on Blackcomb Mountain—something bigger and better than the area under the Magic Chair that would include a terrain park and have space left over for programs and the public.
There were a lot of benefits to this idea.
One benefit is the ability to run on-mountain racing, freestyle and other kinds of ski and snowboard lessons and groups during the week, hopefully reducing ski school lines on busy weekends.
Night skiing could also have an impact on lift lines and traffic. If the mountain is open late, there’s less pressure to get there when things open in the morning. People will also be able to leave at different times in the afternoon, hopefully staggering traffic and reducing the regular Sunday afternoon jams that are a crappy way for visitors to wrap up their weekends.
It also creates something else to do in the evenings, which is something this resort has struggled with. The night is also a good time to learn something new on the slopes, with fewer people to dodge while you’re learning to make turns.
I know I would get a lot more value out of my pass as well. I’m a weekender, which means I get to share the mountains with 25,000 other people every Saturday and Sunday. If the snow is looking good then I need to be in a lift line by 7 a.m. or wait in a massive queue. A lot of days I’ll see the crowds, do the math, and decide not to bother because—it’s not worth it. At some point the amount of time spent in lines and on lifts outweighs the time you spend making turns.
If night skiing were an option, however, I’d go after work during the week or in the afternoons on weekends when things empty out a little.
There is a cost, obviously, but if small resorts like Grouse, Cypress and Seymour can offer night skiing seven nights a week, then so can we. I have a feeling that sales of beer, hot chocolate and nachos would more than cover the costs.
There is also a concern that people will go outside of the lighted area and get into trouble, but that’s a concern at all the other B.C. resorts that offer some night skiing—including direct competitors to Whistler Blackcomb like Big White and Silver Star—and they’ve figured it out.
This is not the first time I’ve written a column begging for night skiing. Sadly, it probably won’t be the last. Like the ticker on Vail Resorts’ corporate site, I’m sure they’ll get around to it eventually.