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Lift expansion makes a statement

$18 million Whistler Blackcomb improvements 'positive' for community, industry


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Getting the go-ahead for an $18 million capital lift expansion is a sure sign Whistler Blackcomb is feeling optimistic about the future and its potential to grow the business, according to industry watchers.

The optimism that began in the boardroom of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. (WB) as the seven-member board gave the thumbs-up for two lift expansions in the ski area is now rippling throughout the community and beyond.

The board's decision to replace the Harmony Express chair with a new six-seater chair, and replace the Crystal Chair with the Harmony Express, is sending a message: WB has its sights on becoming the best mountain resort in the world, and this is a significant step in getting there.

Standing on the deck on the Crystal Hut, an area that will be revolutionized in this year's project, company president and CEO Dave Brownlie shared Whistler Blackcomb Holdings' message in no uncertain terms.

"After two years (as a publically traded company) we're on track with where we want to go in terms of, quite frankly, building the best mountain resort in the world, and this is kind of that first stage of a significant capital investment that I think will start to take us in that direction," said Brownlie. "So (it's) very exciting for us."

Hotelier Jim Douglas, general manager of the Pan Pacific hotels and head of the local hotel association, called it "wonderfully powerful news for our community."

"It's really positive," he said. "(We're) thrilled with the changes at Whistler Blackcomb, and the fact that they continue to make those investments is testament to their expectations of the future.

"They wouldn't be spending money if they didn't think they were going to get it back."

Further afield, on the other side of the continent, Rick Kahl, editor of Connecticut-based Ski Area Management magazine agreed the move is a statement by the board of WB that they're confident they will get a good return on their investment.

"It shows confidence in Whistler Blackcomb in particular and in the Canadian market generally," said Kahl.

That confidence was tangible on the sun-drenched deck of the Crystal Hut this weekend.

There Brownlie, surrounded by key members of his management team including Doug Forseth — who signed the contract with Doppelmayr for the new lift on Friday — talked about the details of the project.

Putting in the new "six pack" at Harmony — Whistler Blackcomb's first six-seater chair — will improve the guest experience in that area and help access the Symphony Amphitheatre area.

"The Harmony area, it is some of the best terrain in North America," said Brownlie. "We all know that but we also know that there's always a huge line-up there... So putting the six pack in there is going to be a big improvement in terms of the guest experience."