WB should open on schedule as long as colder temperatures hold 

Recent warming trend a setback

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MITCH WINTON / COAST MOUNTAIN PHOTOGRAPHY - let it snow Colder temperatures mean fresh snow for Whistler Blackcomb and increased snowmaking at lower elevations.
  • PHOTO by mitch winton / coast mountain photography
  • let it snow Colder temperatures mean fresh snow for Whistler Blackcomb and increased snowmaking at lower elevations.

The shift in temperature means that Whistler Blackcomb (WB) should be ready to open by Nov. 24 — provided the cold temperatures hold and crews can continue snowmaking.

Doug MacFarlane, WB's director of mountain operations, said Tuesday, Nov. 15 that recent unseasonably warm weather didn't cooperate with the prospect of an early opening.

"That did set us back. Definitely going into October we were ahead with snowfall, feeling pretty good," he said. "The last round of storms did knock it back a bit but we're still sitting close to 80 centimetres of snow at Pig Alley. It does peter out at that elevation below."

The rainstorms of the Remembrance Day weekend that caused flooding in Pemberton also conspired to mess with that early-season snow.

Snowmaking began Monday, said MacFarlane, and as long as the cold temperature holds, crews will be able to continue.

"It's a matter of the quality of what we can get out, it really is quite varied," he said. "The colder it is, we can put more water into the system and make more snow. If it's marginal, then we're using more air."

It's what MacFarlane calls snow science, and it takes years to perfect.

"Right now, we're in a break where there's no storms on us. Last night (Monday, Nov. 14) we got 10 cm and it looks nice and wintery but we need these little breaks where we see some of the humidity leave the valley and we can get some colder temperatures overnight."

Mother Nature may cooperate this weekend with up to 30 centimetres of snow expected by Monday, though freezing temperatures are predicted to be up at 1,700 metres. The valley can expect more rain as the next system moves through.

Increased snowmaking is part of $2.4 million spent on upgrades recently with unpredictable weather a driving force behind it. Whistler Blackcomb has doubled its snowmaking capacity in the last four years alone to 270 snow guns (it can fill Vancouver's Rogers Arena three times over with snow each season).

Upgrades were also completed on mountains ski trails.

"We did a lot of trail improvements on green trails, beginner runs on Whistler, as well as we put in another 45 low-energy snowmaking guns," he said. "We made the beginner terrain easier to manage, easier to teach in and actually expanded that terrain. That's a big win for the ski school and ski programs. Hopefully we'll be doing a lot more lessons and our destination visitors are looking for better terrain."

Other improvements include terrain grading in the Olympic Zone for new skiers and snowboarders, and the installation of two new covered carpet areas.

As well, WB reported that $3.3 million was spent to boost its fleet of grooming cats. On Blackcomb Mountain, another 13 low-energy snowguns were added to the Base Learning Area accessible from the Magic Chair.

WB is also back with a group function, in which riders and skiers can set up leaderboards to compare stats and vertical.

On the night before opening day, WB has announced an expedition base camp at Skier's Plaza that will feature a beer garden, live music, and prizes. The event is from 7 to 10 p.m. but an additional contest for participants to sleep overnight at the base of Whistler is featured, with North Face tents and sleeping bags for prizes.

"We're excited to team up with The North Face, who share a passion for winter sports and innovation to celebrate the return of winter," said Stuart Rempel, WB senior vice-president of marketing and sales, in a release. "We will build on the excitement and energy around opening day."

On the mountain, patio upgrades were undertaken at the Roundhouse Lodge, and also at Garibaldi Lift Co. in the village at Skier's Plaza. The Roundhouse was renovated on both upper and lower decks, which increased the patio space to about 3,050 sq. m. The upper patio will be heated in winter, as will Steeps Grill and Wine Bar's patio.

The latest dining option is Grilled Cheese on Whistler at Olympic Station.

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