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New Blackcomb Gondola won't be ready in time for Opening Day

Whistler Blackcomb targeting Dec. 14 for gondola's opening
UNDER CONSTRUCTION Whistler Blackcomb's new Blackcomb Mountain gondola has been hampered by construction delays and won't be ready in time for Opening Day on Nov. 22. WB is targeting Dec. 14 for its opening. File Photo

The new Blackcomb Gondola, the centrepiece of Whistler Blackcomb’s (WB) $66-million lift upgrades slated for this winter, won’t be operational in time for the Nov. 22 Opening Day.

Chief Operating Officer Pete Sonntag confirmed on Tuesday, Nov. 13 that a number of factors have led to the delays. The company is targeting Dec. 14 for the opening of the 10-person gondola.

“You’re always going to face challenges with a project this complex,” he said. “There are multiple factors: we had some challenges with the weather, some challenges with securing helicopters, and there were production delays on some of the critical components as well.”

In an emailed statement, Mark Bee, president of gondola manufacturer Doppelmayr USA, apologized for the production setbacks.

“This is a large and complex project and unforeseen delays have challenged us and made it difficult to meet our deadline,” he wrote. “On behalf of Doppelmayr, I would like to apologize to the guests of Whistler Blackcomb for any inconvenience they will experience from this delay. We will do everything we can to complete the Blackcomb Gondola on or before the new target date and know that the new gondola will provide the enhanced experience and positive impact everyone has been looking forward to.”

Upgrades to the Catskinner chairlift, which will see its capacity increase from three to four per chair; as well as the Emerald Express, which will see capacity increase from four to six per chair, are going according to plan and will be operational in time for Opening Day, Sonntag said.

In a follow-up email, WB's director of communications Marc Riddell explained that Blackcomb Mountain will still open on Nov. 22.

"The current plan would be to have folks access it from Whistler Gondi – Peak-2-Peak ... (We) still intend to open Blackcomb regardless of whether or not the new gondi is up and running." Excalibur will also be open to access Blackcomb.

Weather has hampered efforts somewhat, and Sonntag explained that it’s still too early to definitively say what terrain will be open to skiers and riders by Nov. 22.

“We’ve been capitalizing on every opportunity to make snow. The team has done a great job of having us ready when temperatures cooperate,” he noted. “We know we have some weather coming in this week and we really just need to see what the freezing level is going to be, which will determine if it’s helpful or not. And then we do see a significant (weather) pattern change coming right around American Thanksgiving, so hopefully that will at least get us up and running from that point forward.”

Epic and season’s pass sales will be cut off for the winter on Sunday, Nov. 18. The Spirit Pass, facilitated through the Whistler Chamber of Commerce for local employees, will be available for purchase year-round.

For more on WB’s preparations for Opening Day, pick up this Thursday’s edition of Pique.