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Good vibes abound on pre-New Year's powder day

Winter bookings pacing ahead of previous years

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How to describe the 50-centimetres-in-24-hours, bluebird powder day that was Friday, Dec. 30?

"It was ridiculous. That's the word to use for it," said local powder enthusiast and manager of the Whistler Farmers' Market Chris Quinlan.

"Any time that you can get a full, fresh lap of absolute cream on 7th Heaven, and then leave some tracks that stick around for a little while on Horstman, and then pull a couple of laps out at Blackcomb Glacier, that's a good day."

Even an epic wipeout couldn't ruin Quinlan's day.

"I was following some friends, and I hit a bump and I ended up flying through the air, landing on my head, and I was still going downhill laughing on my head," he said.

"It's been an incredible season."

But the 2016 holiday season was memorable for many reasons, said Whistler Blackcomb (WB) Chief Operating Officer Dave Brownlie.

"The snow was incredible — we were 11 per cent above our 10-year average with 501 cm of snowfall before December 31," Brownlie said in an email.

"Our guests were able to enjoy great top-to-bottom skiing and, based on the diversity of languages heard in lift lines and restaurants, they came from all over the world to spend their holidays with us.

"Overall, we were very pleased with the experience we delivered and the level of business the resort received."

Judging by responses received through a call-out on Pique's Facebook page, the Dec. 30 powder day was definitely one to remember, despite some prolonged wait times.

"It really was the day of days," wrote Ben Ashby.

"I've ridden afternoons for five-six years now, never uploading before noon in all that time, until (Dec. 30). Eight years of living here and hardly ever seeing the mountain early, and here I was, taking photos, going to the Rendezvous for lunch, high-fiving my buddies."

Kari Gaudet said her family of five found easy parking in Lot 8 on Blackcomb and waited less than five minutes for the gondola.

"I skied the morning in the family zone with our three year old and at times we were the only ones on the run," she wrote.

"My husband and older two kids skied up in 7th Heaven during the morning and dealt with minimal wait times. The lunch rush in the Rendezvous was a little crazy but still manageable. All the WB staff was helpful and positive. We enjoyed a great day up there!"

Wendy Hargreaves described it as one of the best ski days ever.

"The wait at the bottom was long, but sunny and not cold," she wrote. "And once up the lines weren't bad at all! Did laps on Spanky's and Arthur's Choice — the snow, scenery and company was perfect."

While WB does not reveal skier numbers, communications manager Lauren Everest said there is no doubt that the mountains have seen some of their busiest days in recent memory.

Lift line-ups were significant, but overall Everest said the experience was positive for most people.

"I think the vibe in the village and on the mountain from all of our guests has been really positive," she said on Dec. 31.

From the perspective of Tourism Whistler (TW), the holiday season is always close to capacity — it's the early December mid-week dates where the resort wants to see growth.

"We don't have final numbers in yet, but it looks like that's what happened this year," said TW research manager Meredith Kunza.

"Where we saw the growth was all of those valleys that happened before Christmas, the mid-week dates."

January bookings continue to pace ahead of previous years, she added.

"February we're pacing ahead as well, and March and even April," Kunza said.

Saad Hasan, chair of the Hotel Association of Whistler, said the hotels are also predicting a busy few months to close out the season.

"But with saying that we are looking at a great winter and also looking at a great summer as well ahead of us, I do want to emphasize that there's always space if people are looking," he said.

With all the fresh snow, WB has been working hard to keep safety top of mind for mountain users. Warnings about the dangers of tree wells have been posted to the snow phone and on the liftie boards.

"In any period where we are receiving heavy snowfall the dangers associated with tree wells definitely escalate," said Everest.

"Just be really smart if you are skiing in the trees. Don't get too close to them. Make sure you are skiing with a friend at all times and that you remain in visual and verbal contact with them, so that if one of you does end up in trouble you can help each other out.

"Having a whistle on your jacket, or backpack close to your mouth, so you can blow on it if you end up in a tricky situation is also important.

"We do really all need to work together to teach people about tree wells. It is a real hazard that exists... inbounds, so the more we can educate everyone and get them making smart choices and riding in groups the better."

Everest reminds anyone heading out beyond the ski area boundary to be prepared to self-rescue and or an overnight stay. Only those guided or trained in backcountry touring should be out of bounds.

"Make conservative choices," said Everest. "The conservative choice is always the right choice. If it doesn't feel right don't do it. You can always come back another day."

For more on tree well safety go to: www.whistlerblackcomb.com/pwdr-stash/blog/winter/mountain-tips/safety-first-tree-wells and www.wikihow.com/Escape-a-Tree-Well-when-Skiing.

For avalanche conditions go to www.avalanche.ca.

For backcountry information go to www.whistlerblackcomb.com/mountain-info/backcountry.

-With files from Clare Ogilvie

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