Weathering the weather 

Hours cut, but businesses working to keep employees on, guests coming back

Two of the four major groundhog weather forecasters in Canada and the U.S. are predicting a long winter and late spring this year, which pretty much sums up the unpredictability of the weather right now. No doubt most Whistlerites are hoping that the groundhogs that did see their shadows, Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania and Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia, know more than their rodent cousins Wiarton Willie in Ontario and Balzac Billy in Alberta.

The impact of a Pineapple Express that dropped record amounts of rain on Whistler in mid-January is starting to be felt around the valley, with staff seeing hours cut, and hotels and businesses going to extraordinary lengths to offer value to visitors.

"We do need to put out a balanced message," said Michelle Comeau Thompson, the director of communications for Tourism Whistler.

"This isn’t what we would normally see in January, but it’s still great up top. And if visitors don’t decided to ski every day during their visit as they normally would, there’s still lots to do in Whistler, which I think gives us a competitive edge."

According to Comeau Thompson, the most important thing to do at this stage is to get the message out that the snow conditions are good at the higher elevations, that more than 60 per cent of the terrain is currently open, and that there are a variety of other options in Whistler.

"Apparently today (Tuesday) was a really great day up top, but from the bottom it doesn’t look like anything is up there. That’s what people need to know," she said.

Tourism Whistler is still collecting numbers from its members to determine the impact of the storm, but according to Comeau Thompson the pace of bookings is down approximately 1.5 per cent from the same period last year.

In addition, hotels have been proactive, offering to reschedule bookings for customers and giving discounts. As a result, there have not been too many cancellations at this point.

The biggest impact is being felt from regional markets, which tend to book at the last minute and are "snow sensitive".

"We’re not seeing the in-fill bookings we normally would from Vancouver and Washington state," said Comeau Thompson. "In terms of long-term bookings, most are still coming, although some are changing those bookings, moving them to later in the season or to next year. As far as cancellations we’re not seeing a massive number, but there are definitely people doing that."

One of the challenges with regional customers is the state of other ski resorts in coastal B.C. and in Washington. Mount Baker is currently closed, and likely won’t reopen until operators see another 30 cm of snow. In the Lower Mainland, Cypress Mountain, Seymour Mountain and Hemlock Valley Resort are closed, and Grouse Mountain is offering limited skiing and snowboarding on a handful of runs.

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