Eager skiers and riders itching for their first run of the season won't have to wait very long with Whistler Blackcomb announcing the opening of Whistler Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 16 — 13 days ahead of schedule.
"Mother Nature obviously blessed us with snow right to the valley last Thursday and it's snowing in the alpine right now, so the forecast looks good," said Whistler Blackcomb's senior vice president of marketing and sales Stuart Rempel Nov. 12.
"We've been able to make a lot of snow and our groomers are up there pushing all those big piles of snow around."
Thanks to consistently cold temperatures and healthy snowfall, and snowmaking efforts, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) plans to open the Village and Creekside gondolas at 8:30 a.m.
Over 60 million gallons of water has been converted into snow over the past few weeks, so conditions should be ideal for the first day of the ski season.
However, WB officials are reminding people that early conditions will be the norm and caution should be exercised. Mountain users are warned to follow the rules and stay inside the roped boundaries.
"It is important to obey mountain signage, ski and ride on open runs only and stay within the operational area marked by 'Temporary Boundary' signage," said Doug MacFarlane, mountain manager at Whistler.
"Guests should be aware there will be rocks and other hazards below the snow surface; we do not recommend skiing and riding outside the temporary boundary in any circumstances."
One group of snowboarders did not heed Whistler Blackcomb's signage last week, accessing Whistler Mountain before its official opening. This resulted in significant injuries to one rider.
Two females and one male accessed the Peak to Creek area of the mountain last Tuesday, Nov. 5. The party hiked up about two kilometres above Kadenwood, according to Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) manager Brad Sills, before the male rider fell more than seven metres onto some rocks, suffering multiple fractures to the lower lumbar and a shattered pelvis.
"They had spent some time at a higher elevation and the tracks continued well above the accident scene," Sills said. "On their way out, the subject failed to negotiate the trail width and boarded off the edge of the trail. It's important to remember there was 35 centimetres of snow on zero base, so I can only imagine that he hit something, although I don't know that."
WSAR personnel attended the call with Whistler Blackcomb patrollers before the injured male was ushered to an ambulance at Kadenwood and taken to the Whistler Health Care Centre before 11 p.m.
Whistler Blackcomb's assistant manager of safety and risk Peter Jean warned of the dangers of riders accessing the mountain before it's ready for operation.
"There's just not enough snow out there to be skiing around recklessly," he said, noting that incidents similar to Tuesday's were not common in the resort. "Basically anywhere above the valley that's wilderness terrain is going to have hazards because the snow just barely covers up the hazards and you can't see them. There's unmarked rocks, unmarked ditches, there's vehicles working around while we're trying to get the hill open, snowmaking machinery and things like that."
Whistler Blackcomb has installed signage at typical access points advising the public of the risks of trespassing, according to WB communications manager Michelle Leroux. It is also using regionally targeted social media posts to highlight safe practices on the mountain, she added.
The Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) issued a release last month addressing the recent proliferation of Smartphone apps touted as an alternative to an avalanche transceiver. The CAC warned that the apps couldn't be used for avalanche rescue, as Smartphones are not capable of the same frequency as internationally standardized transceivers, meaning they are unable to search and find other transceivers.
Over 550 metres (1,800 feet) of vertical terrain will be accessible on Saturday, with Emerald Express, Big Red Express and the Franz's Chair lifts operating. Runs set to open will include Ego Bowl, Upper Whiskey Jack, Upper Franz's, Papoose, Orange Peel and Pony Trail. The last upload will be at 2:30 p.m.
Though early in the season mountain users will find all dining locations on Whistler Mountain ready to go this weekend. Whistler Blackcomb Guest Relations will operate on Friday, Nov. 15 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at its Blackcomb Day Lodge, Creekside and Village locations. All three sites will also be open the following day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. From Sunday, Nov. 17 only the Village and Creekside Guest Relations locations will operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The Blackcomb Day Lodge location will open again Nov. 28.
The most up to date lift status information can be viewed at www.whistlerblackcomb.com. Beginning Friday Whistler Blackcomb's snow report will be updated daily throughout the season, and can be accessed online or by calling 604-687-7507.
Blackcomb Mountain will open as planned on Nov. 28 — the American Thanksgiving long weekend.