First Person: Doug Forseth 

Upping the ante

Whistler-Blackcomb focuses $15 million budget on the experience

Every fall Whistler-Blackcomb has something new to offer guests, a little extra incentive for people to make the trip to Whistler. These little additions have been informally described in terms of the "wow factor", and in recent years that includes the opening of Flute Bowl, the opening of Peak to Creek runs, the construction of a new night halfpipe at Base II, the addition of a new terrain park on Whistler Mountain, and a lot more snowmaking.

At the same time Whistler-Blackcomb is still reeling from perhaps the worst weather conditions in the history of the resort, with a record rainfall and unusually warm conditions all but wiping out a seven-week period from mid-January to early March.

Whistler-Blackcomb mobilized all of the resources at its disposal to keep the mountains up and running, offering unprecedented sales and discounts, retrofitting two snowcats to carry snow, and even hiring a helicopter to move loads of snow to where it was needed, one cargo net at a time. Where machinery was limited, mountain staff picked up shovels and did what they could to keep the main runs open and safe.

Pique sat down with Doug Forseth, the senior vice president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb, to discuss weather, the lessons of 2004-05, marketing Whistler-Blackcomb, and the "wow" factor for this coming season.

Pique: When you were planning for this year, how big a factor was last season? What are the lessons from last year, and how are you applying them?

Doug Forseth: Certainly there were lessons from last year, and one of them is that we will always be at the mercy of Mother Nature. Often we can deal with the little things and be pretty effective, but when you’re hit with a situation like last year it can be pretty difficult. That was not an easy time for us, although I’m proud to say that we did everything that was physically possible to offer our guests the best experience we could.

Pique: Those are the kinds of things you can do again this year?

DF: We’re applying the lesson to better prepare for the eventuality of low snow, and early season no snow, that kind of situation.

We’ve put our emphasis on terrain, which is why we did a lot of summer grooming and that came in two forms. One is that the majority of the mountains have been given a haircut. You could play golf up there. The bushes and trees on the runs have been trimmed right back, so it won’t take too much snow to get going this year.

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