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Gondola project gathers support

Whistler-Blackcomb hopes for provincial approval by end of November

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Whistler-Blackcomb’s blitz of community consultation shows there is overwhelming support for the $40 million Peak to Peak gondola project.

The final coup was a letter of support from Whistler council Monday night, which can be added to the growing list of support from the boards of Tourism Whistler, One Whistler and the Chamber of Commerce. That support will be passed along to Land and Water B.C., the provincial agency charged with the approval of the project.

"It’s important that they (council) said ‘yes’ to help Land and Water get to the point where they can say ‘yes’," said Doug Forseth, Whistler-Blackcomb’s senior vice president of operations, after the meeting. "So this was an important milestone. We’re really pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve had in the community and the project is continuing to move along."

Whistler-Blackcomb is proposing to build a record-breaking gondola from the Roundhouse on Whistler Mountain to the Rendezvous on Blackcomb Mountain. The company publicly announced its intentions one month ago at a council meeting.

Council’s support Monday night, however, was not without its conditions.

Among other things they would like Whistler-Blackcomb to explore green development of the gondola’s terminal buildings and reduce the visual impact as much as possible by keeping the tower heights to a minimum.

One condition which raised some concern for the company was that they comply with the Protected Areas Network or PAN protection guidelines and a PAN environmental review process. The PAN document is still in draft form and as such has yet to be formally adopted by council.

Forseth explained at the meeting that the company could not agree to that condition because the PAN document isn’t final. Moreover, he had not yet had a chance to review it and understand it.

With that in mind, council eased their condition slightly and asked that Whistler-Blackcomb comply with the intent of PAN.

"I don’t know what that means yet," said Forseth this week. "Our goal is to continue to be good stewards of the land…. We will learn what we can from the PAN document."

As part of their community consultation Whistler-Blackcomb also held an open house Saturday, which drew almost 200 curious and concerned community members.

When he first heard about the proposed gondola Bryce Leigh had some reservations about the visual impact the cables and the cable cars would have on the view of Fissile Mountain in between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. After seeing the displays at the open house, he is a little relieved that the view won’t be as compromised as he first imagined.

"If that’s accurate, I’m more at ease," said Leigh.

Steve Cartner came with his family to learn more about the project, particularly to see how the gondola, which will ferry guests from one mountain to the other in 10 minutes, could affect guest experiences skiing and riding.

"I’m curious to know how it’s going to improve the access to both mountains," he said. His initial impression was positive.

His wife Wendy, a concierge for Whistler-Blackcomb, was also excited about the project. She predicts, however, that there will be concerns about the added cost.

"I don’t see that going down well," she said, suggesting that perhaps the first year could be free.

Whistler-Blackcomb is proposing that season’s pass holders would pay an additional $59 to ride the gondola for a season, while a day pass on the gondola would cost roughly $10.

With the bulk of the community consultation complete, Whistler-Blackcomb now must wait for approval from LWBC. They are hoping for that by the end of November.

Another key part of the project is a joint venture partner. Whistler-Blackcomb has put out a call for a partner in the project, estimated to cost between $40 million and $50 million.

At Monday’s meeting Councillor Nick Davies asked whether the company had given any thought to partnering with the community.

Forseth said this week he had not had a formal request from the municipality to send a package on the proposal but he welcomes the idea.

"If the municipal government wants to get serious about that we’ll certainly send them a package," he said. "You frequently see the municipal governments in ski areas in Europe being a partner with the ski hills and they have a joint interest in the success. There’s no stronger way to demonstrate that joint interest than actually being a financial partner."

Forseth also confirmed this week that they have been in discussions with Telus, among other companies, for naming rights of the gondola.

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