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Land swap will have skiers singing in musical bumps



Two lifts planned for Flute basin

Flute peak, one of the musical bumps off Whistler Mountain, will be playing host to new ski lifts and runs in the coming years if a land swap with Garibaldi Provincial Park is approved.

A recent statute amendment, which involves a land trade between Intrawest and the park, is currently before the B.C. Legislature.

If it goes through the Whistler Mountain ski area will get an additional 87 hectares of land in the Flute basin area, giving Intrawest the much-needed space to put in a ski lift and ultimately develop runs in the area.

"It doesn't work at all right now," said Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb.

"You have the area essentially available (and you can't) use it appropriately without this adjustment, so that's the primary issue here."

Forseth said the natural drainage of the area leads down to a point of land, the logical place for the base of the lift, but that point of land is currently within the boundary of the provincial park.

So Intrawest approached B.C. Parks in December with the idea of a land swap.

In exchange for the 87 hectares at Flute, Intrawest is willing to cede 113 hectares of land in the Fitzsimmons area.

"We see it as a win-win (situation)," said Tom Bell, planning officer with B.C. Parks.

"We gain, with 113 hectares which is essentially down slope of Flute Basin, additional protection for Singing Pass Trail. There is about 1.3 kilometres of the trail, which is right now outside the park, which will be added back in. As well we gain some high elevation old growth forest."

Forseth is excited about the development, which he says they are hoping to begin by next summer.

There will probably be two lifts in the area eventually, along with several runs to be developed over the course of several years.

He said the Flute runs will be unlike any other runs currently on the mountain.

"We want to approach it in a very natural way so it'll be a different type of experience than what we have on the rest of the mountain," he said.

"There's a natural glading of the trees in that area for the most part and we want to leave it like that and not cut trees in those locations. Only where it gets too thick toward the bottom part of that would you need to open up some lanes to get back to the lift access."

The expansion to Flute with lifts and runs has been on the backburner for several years.

In 1987 a section of Garibaldi Park was added into the Whistler ski area, then operated by the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, which essentially opened up the area to WMSC.

"There was a wish, a desire, to allow the ski area more alpine ski terrain and I assume that they were looking at the economic opportunities that would come from that development," said Bell.

Since then Intrawest has taken over WMSC and has been pursuing other opportunities. It was only recently that Intrawest turned its attention back to the Flute area.

Then they discovered that a vital chunk of land was left out in the original exchange.

"We believe that there were some boundary survey issues that were probably incorrectly applied back when this happened in 1987... and for some reason there was a notch taken out of that whole basin right where the lift was intended to be," said Forseth.

If the land exchange goes through he said the Flute area will offer guests a beautiful skiing and riding experience.

"The natural glading of the area is something we don't have a lot of now. We made gladed runs but these are natural and they're beautiful."

He admits there will be some that won't be thrilled with the proposed development.

"It's not different than when we first opened up the Peak. People said 'you can't do that' and with Harmony it was the same thing. There's always some nay-sayers," he said.

But, on the other hand, there are a lot of people who will support it.

"I think this will be a further enhancement to the skiing and it's going to be different from what we see now for the most part."

Forseth said he expects the decision from the provincial government will be within the next month.

Flute peak is located off of Harmony chair on Whistler Mountain, between the neighbouring musical bumps of Piccolo and Oboe.

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