Whistler Blackcomb COO discusses historic investment in on-mountain infrastructure 

Pete Sonntag says decision came after close consideration and consultation with community

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE - Pete Sonntag discusses Vail Resorts $66-million investment in on-mountain infrastructure following Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s Holiday Luncheon.
  • Photo by Joel Barde
  • Pete Sonntag discusses Vail Resorts $66-million investment in on-mountain infrastructure following Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s Holiday Luncheon.

Vail Resorts has decided to make a historic investment in Whistler Blackcomb (WB) infrastructure.

The U.S. company will build a new gondola and upgrade two lifts this summer.

The $66-million investment represents the largest single-year capital investment in WB's history and the largest single-year capital investment in any Vail Resorts mountain. The company has 14 mountain resorts in its portfolio.

Speaking at a Whistler Chamber of Commerce event on Thursday, WB chief operating officer, Pete Sonntag, acknowledged that $66 million is "a huge number."

"We're a little nervous about how we're going to pull it off," he said. "But we're always up for a challenge. And I know my team is going to come through in the end."

Sonntag was joined on stage by a number of Whistler executives, including: Arthur DeJong, mountain planning and environmental resource manager; Karla Grenon, director of marketing; and Doug MacFarlane, senior director of mountain operations.

The team fielded a series of questions from business leaders.

"We considered the input of the community, we considered the input of my leadership team and all the people who work in Whistler Blackcomb, and we made a decision on how we want to move forward," said Sonntag.

The new, 10-person gondola will run from the Upper Village to the top of Blackcomb Mountain, where it will end next to the Peak 2 Peak gondola.

It will replace the Wizard and Solar chairlifts.

Whistler Mountain's four-passenger Emerald Express chairlift will be replaced by a new six-passenger lift.

"It is our busiest lift, day in, day out. And we need additional capacity there. So we're going to upgrade it there, from a high speed quad to a six pack," said Sonntag.

The Emerald Express will then be used to replace Blackcomb's Catskinner chair — the ancient, coal-black, three-seater that runs beside the expert terrain park.

The additions will significantly boost Whistler Blackcomb's on-mountain capacity.

The new gondola alone will be able to move up to 4,000 people per hour, representing a 47-per-cent capacity increase over the old ways to the top of Blackcomb.

But that doesn't mean that Vail Resorts is looking to bring additional riders onto the hill, said Sonntag.

"It's not about packing people on the mountain. It's about making the experience better for people that are already there," he said.

The announcement was made early this morning as part of Vail Resorts' first quarter results release.

Vail Resorts' decision to invest in on-mountain infrastructure before pursing real-estate developments — which are also in the works — came as welcome news to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"My personal opinion is that it's a great decision," she told Pique following the Chamber event.

Getting to know Whistler before going forward with major development projects makes sense, she said.

"I think it's a wise decision — to focus on the facilities on the mountain and get to know the Whistler community," she said.

Communication between the two parties has been strong, she added.

"I've had conversations with the senior management team and Pete Sonntag, and he's mentioned on several occasions — outside of the Whistler community — how important the relationship is."

Pick up Pique on Thursday for more on this story.

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