Whistler closed, Blackcomb reopened as mountain celebrate successful year 

Visitors up, record set for regional visits

Whistler Mountain officially closed for the season on Sunday, June 4 but that’s not the end of the line for diehard skiers and snowboarders. Blackcomb reopened the following day for the summer season, with the best glacier and high alpine skiing conditions in recent years. The glacier will be open daily until July 30 with a public terrain park and pipe.

To promote summer skiing, Whistler-Blackcomb extended winter seasons passes to June 18. Glacier passes are also available with specials for regular season pass holders and EDGE card holders.

The regular season for Whistler Mountain ended on a sad note with the death of two employees in a snowmobile accident on Monday during clean up. The circumstances are still under investigation.

According to Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb, the incident has shaken up employees and cast a shadow on what was otherwise a great season for the mountains. It was the 40 th anniversary for Whistler Mountain and the 25 th anniversary for Blackcomb.

Statistically, Whistler-Blackcomb is on track to post more than two million skier visits this year by the end of the summer season, which is getting back to where the resort was before the 9/11 attacks and economic recession.

"We had a great early opening, November 5 was one of the earliest openings ever, which was very exciting for us," said Rempel. "We had some challenges with the weather in December until Christmas, and it started snowing that night in the alpine and didn’t stop until February."

January was a record month for snow with 469 cm falling –the most snow that the mountains have recorded in a single month since they started collecting data 20 years ago. That contributed to the mountains posting their fourth largest total snowfall for the season, with more than 12 metres over the course of the season.

But while snow definitely helped draw visitors to the resort, Rempel says Whistler-Blackcomb and its partners in the resort also helped by providing guests with better value.

Regionally, EDGE card sales were up 40 per cent over the previous years, and advance sales for next year should be up another 40 per cent. Most 2005-2006 EDGE card holders bought their passes before the season even started.

As a result of the snow, EDGE cards and other promotions, the mountains set a record in terms of regional visitors with close to a million skier visits primarily from B.C. and Washington. Numbers from Ontario also increased, but the long-haul U.S. market continued to be a challenge through the first part of the season.

"We had incredible cooperation with Tourism Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb and our hotel property partners all recognizing that there were some issues for long haul markets," he said. "We rolled our sleeves up, and went out and created and sold great value, and it worked. We saw occupancy in hotels increase three per cent over the prior year and the trend looking forward has improved.

"We can’t take our eye of the ball, which means we have to continue to go forward to create and sell value, and promote the fact that we offer the best possible experience, the best possible value, combined with the most incredible mountain resort in the world."

Some of the challenges that the mountains are weighing in the future include rising gas prices and the fact that the U.S. will soon require passports for people travelling and returning to the country.

Rempel is confident that the value that is being offered can offset any additional costs or inconvenience in travelling, which is one of the reasons Whistler-Blackcomb are continuing to reinvest in their terrain. They have $22 million set aside for on-mountain improvements this year, including a new lift up Piccolo that provides lift access to more than 1,000 acres of terrain within the resort boundaries that were not as easily accessible.

"Given the price of gas people might think twice about driving six hours to get here, but …every day the highway is improving, and if it’s a matter of one or two hours people are going to recognize that they can go to Whistler to get a world class experience for the same price as somewhere else. People coming from farther away are going to see the same thing as well, even with the higher gas prices."

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