Whistler is looking up these days, literally and figuratively, as locals lift their chins and peer into the alpine to see how much snow has fallen.
The recent round of storms brought enough snow to the mountains to allow the resort to open six days earlier than planned, with five lifts on Whistler Mountain opening to the public on Friday, Nov. 19. Blackcomb will open as scheduled on Thursday, Nov. 25.
As it currently stands, you can access Whistler Mountain through either the Village Gondola or Creekside Gondola, with lifts turning at 8:30 a.m. Open lifts include the Emerald Express, Big Red Express and Franz's Chair, which will close at 3 p.m. There is no ski out, or even a reasonable walk out, and downloading is mandatory.
The forecast includes snow and flurries through the week, and on Tuesday the mountain started posting snow reports online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com to provide information to guests. You can also call the Snow Phone at 604-932-4211.
As of Wednesday morning the snow base was over 75 cm at Pig Alley, near the top of the Garbanzo Express, and snowmaking and grooming is underway as temperatures drop.
Early season conditions are in effect, which means skiers and boarders should be on the lookout for rocks and other natural obstacles. As well, people are being advised to observe the signs and stay within the marked boundaries - including the early season Temporary Boundary signs.
"If there's a hard (boundary) line, then you don't go in there at any time," advised Brian Leighton, safety manager for Whistler Blackcomb. "(In the alpine) there may be avalanche closures, depending on how much snow we get between now and opening day. The minimum risk is you losing your pass for the year. The worst case is you could get caught in a slab and get injured or killed."
Lower down the mountain there are also risks when you go off the groomed runs, with exposed rocks, stumps, ditches and other features that can cause accidents and injuries, not to mention broken skis and snowboards.
"A lot of times off the open areas it will look pretty good, but when you get lower down the run you're going to run out of snow," said Leighton. "It's not a good experience. You can really damage your equipment, and the long walk out is not fun."
Leighton urges people to be patient because it's a long season. "People have to use their heads and bide their time so they don't end their season on the first day," he said.
A complete guide to signage is posted online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/mountain/safety/index.htm, as well as the Alpine Responsibility Code and other safety information.