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Whistler Blackcomb opens new Crystal Ridge Express chairlift

Eager riders brave -20C to ride new chair
CRYSTAL CLEAR: Whistler Blackcomb officially opened the new Crystal Ridge Express chair this weekend. Photo by Vince Shuley

After busy summer of construction and moving over 40,000 cubic metres of earth, the Crystal Ridge Express opened at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 to a cold crowd of enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders.

"I think this investment is going to exceed people's expectations for many years to come, said Whistler Blackcomb's president and COO Dave Brownlie of the two new lifts and the $18 million upgrades to the two mountains, which included a $3 million investment in new snowmaking equipment including 15 brand new fan guns to cover sections of the Crystal zone.

"We did spend a lot of money, but we certainly got great value. This will keep people in a tremendous zone that we have. Not only the Crystal zone but also access (to) the Blackcomb Glacier so people can spend more time (there). It will smooth people across the mountain and improve the experience across the mountain for everybody."

Eager skiers and snowboarders braved the cold to line up as early as 90 minutes before first loading commenced. A fanfare of music entertainment and caramel popsicles greeted the public as they lined up for their first ride on the Crystal Ridge Express. The Harmony 6 Express will open on Saturday, December 14.

"I'm excited to not have to line up on Excelerator after every Crystal or Glacier run," said Australian local Lindsay Wilson.

"Just getting rid of that congestion there is going to make it much better. But the powder is going to be gone quicker."

With temperatures dropping below -20 degrees Celsius, many people retreated into the Crystal Hut after their first ride on the new chair to warm up. Treed runs in the Crystal zone still require a lot of snow before being ready to ski, but people were happy to make turns down runs such as Ridge Runner and Rock n Roll, where new snowmaking infrastructure has been installed.

The Crystal Ridge Express was Blackcomb's first expansion to its lift system since the installation of the Excalibur Gondola and Excelerator Chair in 1994. Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky has worked as a patroller on Blackcomb since that time and was happy to see Blackcomb receiving an expansion.

"I'm glad to see that the dark side is finally getting a little more of this investment," said Sturdy.

"This is a great mountain, a great place to work and a great place to ski."

It took nine months of construction, the installation of 20 towers, the stringing of 119 chairs, and building a new uploading terminal to get the lifts operational.

The new high-speed quad chairlift replaced the old triple grip chairlift and now allows for 2,400 skiers and riders to upload the lift per hour, that's 880 more skiers and riders per hour than the old chairlift.

The aspect of the new lift line is dramatically different, and has moved to 158 metres lower than the previous chair. The new bottom terminal location along the Blackcomb Glacier Road ski-out eliminates the need to utilize the Excelerator Chair to access many Crystal Zone trails including Ridge Runner, Rock 'N' Roll, and gladed trails like Outer Limits.

The new lift alignment will also make it even quicker for users to return to the Glacier Express chair in order to access Horstman Glacier, Blackcomb Glacier and Spanky's Ladder.

For more on this story check back in the Pique this Thursday.