The opening day of Whistler's Blackcomb's (WB) new Harmony 6 Express saw an enthusiastic turnout, including over 75 eager skiers dressed as Santa Claus, despite some technical difficulties that caused minor delays.
Whistler Blackcomb president and CEO Dave Brownlie was on hand Saturday, Dec. 7 to cut the ribbon on the resort's first six-seater chairlift — part of an $18-million investment on both mountains. Blackcomb Mountain's new Crystal Ridge Express chairlift was unveiled last week.
Shortly after opening, however, loading onto the Harmony 6 chairlift had to be stopped after lift operations staff determined a tower safety switch had to be adjusted. The lift was not operational for around 45 minutes, according to Whistler Blackcomb.
The opening day also marked the mountain's annual Dress Like Santa Day, with the first 75 riders sporting full Santa garb given a free lift ticket and escorted to the front of the line to be among the first to ride the Harmony 6 Express.
With a lack of consistent snowfall in the early ski season — Whistler has seen around half of the usual December snowpack on the ground so far this month — WB has been operating all 250 of its snow guns, according to spokesperson Laura Gallant. Since the start of the season, the resort has converted over 230 million gallons of water into snow.
"We are expecting to make snow for the next week as far down as the valley as the temperatures cool again," she wrote in an email on Tuesday, Dec. 17. "We have snow guns in place covering over 4,000 vertical feet and we are opening up more terrain this week and enhancing the terrain that is already opened with our manmade snow."
To further ensure rider safety during low snowfall periods, mountain staff has installed additional piste markers to clearly indicate groomed runs, said WB's assistant manager of safety Peter Jean, who suggested those wanting to go off piste do so only if they're familiar with the terrain and there is clear visibility.
"Outside of (the piste markers) it's shallower and obviously has more hazards under the surface," Jean said.
The ski resort operator is also gearing up for what are typically the busiest few weeks of the season leading into Christmas and the New Year.
"We are actively communicating to the public through 'Today On The Mountain', on our website and social media accounts to encourage skiers and riders to avoid the crowds by uploading early in the day and eating outside of the core noon lunch hours," Gallant said, adding that the two new lifts have increased capacity, which should provide guest access to previously underused terrain such as the Crystal Zone, and to ensure that high-traffic lifts like the Harmony 6 Express have shorter lines. Whistler Blackcomb also increases mountain safety staff at this time of year.
New on the mountain this year is the Turtles Slow Zone, sponsored by the chocolate maker, which offers riders a tasty incentive for riding appropriately in slow zones and learning areas.