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Highway closure costs Whistler quarter million dollars

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Accident, improper tires blamed for five-hour closure

While locals enjoyed 46 centimetres of powder and short lift lines on Saturday, at the gates north of Squamish thousands of frustrated skiers and boarders waited over five hours for Highway 99 to reopen.

"We believe we had at least 2,000 to 3,000 customers that didn’t make it up the mountain on Saturday, because they couldn’t make it to Whistler with the road being closed," says Doug Foseth, Senior Vice President of Operations for Whistler-Blackcomb.

"We based that on a kind of a forecast we made based on what’s normal for this time of year and the numbers we had on Sunday – on Sunday numbers were back up and we were right on for all the budget levels, so it’s obvious we lost business."

The mountains weren’t the only losers, either, says Forseth.

"For the whole community it was a loss of revenue, people in hotels, people in stores and restaurants. It was probably a quarter of a million (dollars) in lost business for the community on Saturday."

According to Forseth, the community arrived at those numbers by multiplying the estimated number of customers that were delayed by the road closure by the average expense per visitor. If anything, says Forseth, it’s a conservative estimate.

A number of drivers have called and written Whistler-Blackcomb to express their frustration with the road closure.

"There were some very disappointed people," Forseth says.

Whistler-Blackcomb is currently working through the municipality, and its ties to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, to find ways to prevent future road closures.

"We talked to the (municipal) Transportation Advisory Group about how we’re going to try and address this so we can be better prepared to manage it in the future, when we get the next big storm."

According to Corporal Don Orthner of the Squamish RCMP, the storm on Saturday was only part of the problem.

Snowy conditions from the night before led to a minor head-on collision between two vehicles about 20 kilometres north of Squamish on Highway 99 at approximately 7:20 a.m.

"As a result of the accident we stopped all northbound and southbound traffic at that location," says Orthner.

The officers attending the accident notified the department of highways, which indicated a road closure on the sign near the Alice Lake area.

"People were just ignoring it. So eventually at about 9 o’clock I zipped up there to the gates north of Alice Lake and closed the gates," Orthner says. "People were just heading up north and just getting stuck in the big traffic jam up there and causing more problems."

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