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More snowmaking may be in the forecast

Whistler-Blackcomb considering increasing snowmaking capacity this summer

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Whistler-Blackcomb is considering increasing its snowmaking capacity after coping for months with very low snowfall.

"We are working on that concept right now," said Whistler-Blackcomb’s senior vice-president of operations, Doug Forseth.

"It is not finalized but we are certainly thinking in that direction, so I would guess within the next 30 days we should have a good clear picture of what we are going to do this summer."

Snowmaking capacity has to be increased prior to hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Those upgrades will take place over two summers, starting in the summer of 2006.

But in light of this winter’s snowpack – the lowest snow totals since Whistler Mountain opened in 1966 – Whistler-Blackcomb is looking at accelerating its snowmaking program and adding capacity this summer.

The most successful snow guns on the mountains right now are the automated fan guns, which produced the snow for the FIS Snowboard World Championships on Blackcomb last January.

"…That snow is still there on that slope and it is still one of the best places to ski on the mountain, so that goes to show you what the new technology can do," said Stuart Rempel, vice president of marketing and sales.

The guns turn on automatically when the temperature reaches —2 degrees C. Right now there are 12 of those guns on Blackcomb and 160 guns over both mountains.

Most of the other guns are air-water guns, which are useful to make snow at slightly warmer temperatures. That is why they have always been the choice for the competition downhill runs on Whistler, said Forseth.

And it’s likely, he said, that air-water guns would be used for the most part for any snowmaking during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2010.

The mountains have tested guns which produce snow when the temperature is above zero but they are inefficient and not cost effective said Forseth.

Typically an automated fan gun costs about $45,000 while an automated air-water gun costs about $10,000. However, infrastructure needed for the air-water gun makes the overall expense about the same.

With more guns coming on-line the mountains will be expanding their reservoirs said Forseth.

The long-term plan is to take water from Fitzsimmons Creek for Whistler’s needs, as well as drawing it from the mountain. Currently only Blackcomb takes water from the Fitzsimmons for snowmaking and other water-based activities.

Despite the low snow year both Forseth and Rempel believe the mountains offered a fair product.

"Most places in our area are all closed and we have never closed and we have continued to provide a reasonable and decent ski product," said Forseth.

"It has been amazing to watch our gang here because they have been truly creative in their efforts to make it happen."

Said Rempel: "We have added value for the local and regional skier in terms of food discounts and so on and for the most part when people come up here the skiing experience has been quite enjoyable.

"And I have to say we have certainly been luckier than other resorts in the region."

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