By Andrew Mitchell
Tourism B.C. presented its annual awards in Vancouver in February, recognizing businesses and associations for their contributions to one of the province’s largest industries.
Whistler-Blackcomb was presented with the Environmentally Responsible Tourism Award, recognizing the resort’s Environmental Management System, its ongoing efforts to curb waste and reduce energy consumption, and the efforts that went into opening the $9.2 million Symphony Express chairlift.
“A great deal of effort went into minimizing our environmental footprint on the construction end of the Symphony Express and it’s wonderful to see that the results of that effort are being recognized,” said Arthur DeJong, Whistler-Blackcomb’s manager of mountain planning and environmental resources.
Among other things, the lift was built while there was still snow in the alpine to avoid building new roads or disturbing vegetation, and much of the below treeline area accessed by the lift was left gladed, with minimal logging rather than clearcut to create open runs. As a result the footprint of the new lift was kept to less than five per cent of the area, compared to original estimates of 40 per cent.
Other environmental projects include:
• Two PowerSmart projects with B.C. Hydro to reduce energy consumption by more than three million kilowatt hours of electricity per year — enough electricity to power 300 homes for a year.
• Helping to plan a run of the river hydro project on Fitzsimmons Creek, which would produce more energy each year than the ski hill consumes.
• Installing a small turbine in Flute Creek to power the Symphony Express lift station heating and lighting, as well as the washrooms.
• Installing a MET tower in the Khyber Pass area to explore the potential for future wind power installations.
• Reducing vehicle emissions through fleet maintenance and employee carpooling, reducing greenhouse emissions by over 585,000 pounds annually.
• A waste management system that reduces waste sent to landfill, as well as the diversion of 100 tonnes of organics into composting.
As well, Whistler-Blackcomb sponsors the Habitat Improvement Team, which tackles environmental projects around the valley.
The latest award from Tourism B.C. is in addition to 16 awards that Whistler-Blackcomb has received over the years from groups like the U.S.-based National Ski Areas Association, and England’s First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards.