Heavy snowfall keeps WB teams busy 

Opening delays a result of lower mountain avalanche control and high winds

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE - All Time Hefty snowfall in recent weeks has kept mountain crews busy, and mountaingoers more than satisfied.
  • PHOTO by Joel Barde
  • All Time Hefty snowfall in recent weeks has kept mountain crews busy, and mountaingoers more than satisfied.

Powder-loving Whistler skiers have been stoked for the past couple weeks, with the mountain receiving significant snowfall. But for Whistler Blackcomb's mountain operations team, big snow translated into big work, as crews raced to open the slopes every morning.

Last weekend the resort received its largest snowfall this season: an astonishing 69 centimetres of snow.

Coupled with high winds, the conditions led to a delay in opening the ski runs. However, with the exception of the upper alpine, all lifts were open by 10 a.m., according to Whistler Blackcomb.

"It was (too) windy to run the lift," explained Whistler Blackcomb's director of mountain operations, Doug MacFarlane. "We were delayed just getting up the lift with all our avalanche control teams, just because of the lift. We're not going to run the lifts for anybody if it's too windy," he said.

Major dumps of snow meant that ski patrol had to control for avalanches on the lower mountain in addition to the upper mountain, said MacFarlane.

"You don't often see avalanche control taking place on the lower mountain... But when you get 69 centimetres of new snow, you have to do avalanche control on Lower Insanity — places like that."

Avalanche control starts at first light, "but it doesn't mean we're not up there in the dark, prepping all the explosives, doing all of our snow-study analysis in the weather plots," explained MacFarlane.

He also noted that the mountain strives to open things by 8 a.m. "We try to do it on the weekends and bigger-crowd days because it really helps with congestion — it makes a big difference."

Over on Vancouver Island, Mt. Washington Alpine Resort wasn't even able to open last Sunday, Jan. 21. The resort had received over 100 centimetres of snow in the previous 24 hours, causing road closures. It was the first time in almost two decades the resort closed because of too much snow.

The large snowfall caused in-bound avalanche danger, explained Sheila Rivers, a spokesperson for Mt. Washington. "Not all storms are created equal, and the way that the storm fell and the amount that it fell, we were experiencing natural avalanches in resort."

Tragically a 27-year old Campbell River man, Stewart Elhorn, passed away the following day, Jan. 22, after falling into a tree well.

Elhorn leaves behind a four-year old son and a fiancé. A Gofundme page in support of them has already received almost $16,000 in donations (www.gofundme.com/alisha-benny).

The tree-well risk has led both Whistler Blackcomb and Mt. Washington to stress the importance of playing it safe when tree skiing.

"You want to be skiing with a partner and you want to keep them in sight," explained MacFarlane, noting riders should give trees plenty of space. He also recommended skiing with a whistle when riding trees.

You can see Avalanche Canada's website at www.avalanche.ca/map and Whistler Blackcomb's snow report at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/the-mountain/mountain-conditions/snow-and-weather-report.aspx.

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