Pushing snow 

Helicopters, modified snowcats part of Whistler-Blackcomb strategy to keep terrain, ski-outs open

The good news is that more than 4,500 hectares, or 60 per cent, of terrain on Whistler and Blackcomb is still open after a Pineapple Express brought heavy rains and warm temperatures to the area almost three weeks ago.

And though the weather has had a significant impact on the snowpack, it could have been worse – between Jan. 17 and Jan. 28 the high alpine areas of Whistler and Blackcomb only saw 50 millimetres out of the 350 mm of total rain recorded, with the rest falling as snow. Of course high winds limited the alpine access for avalanche control for several days, but those issues have been resolved and alpine operations are back on track. The situation is steadily improving at mid-mountain, and the ski-outs are still open.

"We’re doing anything and everything we can to make sure we get through this abnormal occurrence, and to get through it without our resort reputation being damaged," said Doug Forseth, senior vice president of Whistler-Blackcomb.

When he says anything and everything he means it. While rumours circulated around town that one or both mountains were closing down operations and laying off staff, Whistler-Blackcomb was busy putting those rumours to rest.

In the last week, Whistler-Blackcomb has used helicopters to transport snow from the Upper Dave Murray to bare sections on the ski-out to Whistler Creek, as well as to the learning areas at Olympic station. The snow is shovelled into nets, which can carry a few hundred kilograms of snow each trip.

The cat shop on Blackcomb has also modified a snowcat by adding a hydraulic dump truck attachment to the back. The bin, which cost Whistler-Blackcomb $15,000, is lined with Teflon, allowing workers to blow snow into the back in a matter of seconds, and easily dump it where its needed most.

Forseth praised the efforts of staff, which he says have been going above and beyond the call of duty to keep the mountains operating.

"It’s really unbelievable the kinds of things we’re seeing, showing once again that we have as good a team as you’ll find anywhere, if not the best in the world," he said.

"Ski patrol has been out there with shovels and tarps, moving the snow from the sides of the runs into the middle, keeping our ski outs going while working hard to open as much of the alpine as possible.

"The vehicle maintenance guys have been hard at work on the snowcat with the dump truck attachment, something that doesn’t exist anywhere else. The grooming staff is doing an incredible job considering what they have to work with in some places. They have a lot of finesse, and a lot of experience, they’re winching in places where they’ve never winched before… to keep that terrain open."

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