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No artistry behind Whistler Blackcomb snow reports

Mountain operator seeks to debunk negative social media feedback
CALLING THE PLAY Assistant avalanche forecaster Kevin Sibbald in the Whistler Blackcomb weather office on Whistler Mountain. Photo by Braden Dupuis

Whistler Blackcomb (WB) wants the public to know — there's no creative artistry behind its snow reports.

"People think that we just pull numbers out of thin air for how much snowfall we had over night because we're trying to market to get people to come up here," said Chelsea Moen, communications coordinator with WB.

"What doesn't make sense about that logic is with social media, it can provide instant feedback for people, so if we were to lie and make something up, someone can go up on the mountain and instantly call us out on that.

"So that is 100 per cent not what happens."

What does happen is a coordinated effort to get accurate information to the public as soon as possible.

Moen's day starts at 5 a.m., but the first snow and condition reports come from groomers on the mountain around 3 or 4 a.m., she said.

"They're our eyes on the mountain early, and they provide us with what the wind is doing, what the visibility is, what the weather is like, what our base is and what our snowfall was," Moen said.

The snowfall levels are recorded at the Pig Alley Weather Station 1,650 metres up Whistler Mountain.

WB doesn't measure snowfall in the alpine as the wind makes it difficult to do so with any sort of consistency.

"WB has been using Pig Alley Weather Station for a number of years... so we have a history and wealth of information," Moen said.

"This way our forecasters are able to interpret what 10 centimetres at Pig Alley means in the alpine. They look at the wind speed and direction from the previous night and combine that knowledge with what new snow fell at Pig Alley to make decisions on the alpine snow and safety."

The early condition reports provided by groomers get compiled into the first "Today on the Mountain" report — which gets circulated to hotels and media at 5:30 a.m. — and the first of the day's snow-phone scripts.

By 6:15 a.m., the forecasters will have had a chance to check on the updated conditions themselves.

"That information we then take and put into the second 'Today on the Mountain' that we update, and that happens around 6:30, 7 o'clock," Moen said.

"I always say the most accurate, up-to-date either snow phone or 'Today on the Mountain' will be for 7:30 a.m., because at that point we've had a chance to connect with the forecasters. We're not basing it around what our groomers have seen."

Alpine forecasts posted to WB's website are provided by third-party firm RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists.

Whistler and Blackcomb mountains each have their own forecasting teams paying attention to the finer details of the forecast.

Kevin Sibbald, assistant avalanche forecaster with WB, likened the forecasting job to that of a quarterback calling plays.

"You're giving clearances, you're looking at your observations, you've got teams out gathering information," he said.

"Hopefully you've had that pre-planned from the night before, and then you need to make your decisions on what you're going to do."