Whistler Blackcomb addresses master plan concerns 

Master plan update includes lift development, bike park expansion, restaurants, accommodation and more

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Whistler Blackcomb (WB) has laid all of its cards out on the table in its most recent master plan update, presented in an open house on Sept. 25.

The plans include every possible upgrade that the resort is considering for the next 60 years, including the addition or replacement of lifts, the potential creation of new ski zones and options for expanding the growing bike park.

The meeting was held to give WB a chance to address the concerns that came up during the last Master Plan open house in February 2011, and the public comment period afterward. During the presentation, Whistler Blackcomb ran a slide presentation addressing specific concerns and feedback.

Terry Platt, senior manager of special projects for the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations, said some 38 comments were received during the feedback period. The master plans haven't been altered significantly since 2011, but Platt said the language has evolved.

"One thing that changed is in regards to lift plans in Blackcomb Glacier. In the most recent draft there's a commitment not to propose any development in the glacier until 2020," she said.

"There's also more information in the development phases and stages, and in the level of consultation and predevelopment work. For example, one commitment didn't change whether lifts would go into Flute, but (WB) do commit to having a consultation process on how that might happen."

Platt said the master plan would likely be approved by government agencies in the coming months, and the final version should be in place early in the New Year.

But while past open houses have revealed some large projects — like the Symphony Express chair, the Peak 2 Peak gondola and the current $18 million project to replace the Harmony Express on Whistler with a six-seater, and move most of the existing Harmony to replace and expand on the Crystal Chair area on Blackcomb — the update doesn't provide a clue as to what the resort's next big move might be.

Some plans seem likely to happen soon. For example, the plans call for upgrades and expansions to beginner and learning areas on both mountains — something that fits in with WB's goal of bringing more people into snow sports. As well, the bike park continues to increase in popularity, and an expansion to Creekside, or possibly Blackcomb, has been discussed publicly for years.

Whistler Blackcomb president and CEO Dave Brownlie said the company hasn't decided what order things will happen.

"There's a whole host of things in the plan, so we're in the process of really trying to line them up and understand what the most important things are that we need to move forward on," he said. "And move forward with the community as well, obviously the relationship between what we do and what the community does is so important."

For example, Brownlie pointed to the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) committee, which was created by the municipality to look at economic development opportunities and spending in the resort. It includes representation from Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of Whistler and the municipality.

"We will look at the EPI indicators, look at what we're trying to do with the accommodation sector, the commercial sector, and then decide what is the going to be the best fit to take the resort to the next level," said Brownlie.

He also acknowledged that some items in the Master Plan, including proposed lifts for Flute basin and the Blackcomb Glacier, were controversial, but said the actual decisions will be based on the business case and whatever makes the most sense.

"We've got a really great start (on the future) with our $18 million expenditure for this year, and we're going to see the level of interest we get — not only from the regional market but from the destination market," he said. "What we've put on the table (in the master plan) is what we're looking to develop over the next 60 years, this is the build-out for Whistler Blackcomb over time, but certainly we'll always adapt and change to fit market needs. But for right now we just tried to get everything on the table with all of our plans for the near term."


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