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Making the little things add up

Up close with Doug Forseth, Whistler-Blackcomb's head of operations



By Andrew Mitchell

The off-season is always a busy time for Whistler-Blackcomb, which is constantly changing and upgrading its facilities to maintain its number one status among North American resorts. This summer was no exception, with the ski operator investing more than $22 million in on-mountain improvements.

Almost half of that funding is for the new Symphony Express lift and the creation of new runs in the area, but between regular upgrades and Olympic improvements, visitors will notice quite a few differences this year.

Last week Pique Newsmagazine sat down with Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations, to talk about what’s new on the mountains this year, and what changes are still to come.

Pique: Overall your budget is about $22 million, which is up quite a bit from last year, but Symphony isn’t the only new investment.

Doug Forseth: All told the cost of Symphony is about $9.3 million, $9.4 million including the chairlift, the new runs and so forth. In that sense it’s a bigger year for us, it’s been several years since we’re seen a budget of $20 million or more and we’ve only done that a couple of years since Whistler and Blackcomb merged. Usually our budget is in the $12-$15 million range for on-mountain improvements and improving our product.

Pique: A lot of money was spent last year on summer grooming and snowmaking. Was that a focus again this year?

DF: This year it was really a lot of little things that added up, but which people are bound to notice. Always snowmaking is one of our first priorities, and we’ve improved it in a number of places. A lot of those improvements are being done for the Olympic Games, and aren’t included in our budget, but there are other improvements as well.

One of the areas we’ve focused on is Pony Trail, which is the easiest way down the side of the not very easy Red (chair) side of the mountain. The run is about 60 to 70 per cent wider.

On Crabapple we’ve spent considerable money to put in snowmaking. It’s not all completed because we’re doing the project in conjunction with the Olympics, but it’s something we’d probably do even without the Games.

Pique: It follows a lot of improvements on Blackcomb to widen the ski outs. Was that the intention?