New lodge, two lifts is $24 million plan for Whistler Mountain Goodbye Round House, hello Little Red By Chris Woodall The Roundhouse is history. Whistler Mountain's gathering spot on the peak since 1966 will be replaced by a $8.5 million restaurant complex linking the top of the Village Gondola to Pika's, Whistler/Blackcomb announced Wednesday at a local press conference. "This isn't an easy town to keep a secret in," acknowledged Dave Perry, vice-president marketing and sales, on rumours of what was in the works. Whistler/Blackcomb employees were told of the capital plans in a memo that morning. The new facility will total 50,000 square feet with seating for 1,750 hungry folks, making it by far the largest ski resort restaurant in Whistler. Blackcomb's Glacier Creek Lodge seats 1,000 inside. But even Pika's will be gone, at least in name. Instead, the whole complex will be called The Roundhouse Lodge, to maintain a connection to the old building's history, Perry says. It’s part of $24 million in capital improvements to Whistler Mountain for 1998. There's more: o The Peak chair (built in 1986) will be replaced with a new $3.4 million Doppelmayr high-speed detachable quad lift that will zoom 2,800 visitors an hour to the summit in less than four minutes, a 180 per cent increase in traffic carried by the current Peak chair. o The current Peak lift will slip down the mountain to where the Little Red chair use to be, but it will be renamed Franz's Chair after Whistler Mountain founder Franz Wilhelmsen. o To encourage more visits to the top of Whistler Mountain, terrain behind the peak will be massaged to make it more user friendly for less than expert skiers and snowboarders wanting to get to Whistler Bowl, West Bowl and Bagel Bowl. "It's the biggest piece of under-utilized terrain in this valley," Perry says. o The Village Gondola will get a major overhaul of its mechanical and electrical systems, including replacing the "ropes." "There are a lot of hours on that lift," says Doug Forseth, senior vice-president operations. "The rust that scars the cars will be gone." No major capital plans have been scheduled for Blackcomb this year, although it too will close briefly, June 1-4, for maintenance work on its chair lifts. The last day for the old Roundhouse will be — ironically enough for a weekend that observes another "death and resurrection" — Easter Monday, April 13, celebrated with a mountain-top farewell party, featuring 1966 prices for 1998 food. Construction begins April 20, the day after Whistler Mountain closes for the season. Whistler Mountain will be closed for the summer while construction proceeds. All on-mountain activities, including mountain bike trail use and music festivals, will be moved to Blackcomb Mountain. Musical events will be presented at Blackcomb's Base II. Dates and performers are to be announced. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra series, however, will be postponed for 1998. "Keeping Whistler Mountain open through the summer would lessen the mountain experience for visitors" having to negotiate the construction site, Perry says. The flying saucer-shaped heritage building will not disappear entirely. Pieces of it will become part of a wall of fame in the new Roundhouse Lodge that will focus on Whistler's history and those who helped make it happen. "It's a natural hub on the mountain that has great 360-degree views," Perry says of the old, and the new, Roundhouse. The original Roundhouse was meant to be no more than a warming hut, featuring a central fireplace. As years went by, fast food facilities were built with, as one old-timer remembers, sometimes dubious results. The restaurant space will be broken into smaller more intimate spaces with an expanded menu: burgers & fries, fresh pasta and stir frys, and Asian cuisine. Inside, the design will have a West Coast feel. The central staircase in Pika's will be moved to the side to provide more floor space. Outside, the over-all design will feature a stone and large beam exterior with expansive sun decks and a permanent barbecue station. With the new Peak chair, Whistler/Blackcomb will have 13 high-speed lifts, more than any single resort in North America. The lift improvements will increase over-all lift capacity of Whistler/Blackcomb by 3,200 skiers/boarders an hour, for a total lift capacity of 55,806. Bringing back the Little Red chair lift line recognizes the popularity of that slope area and a constant flow of comment cards asking for it. "The runs there have a lot of little nooks and crannies and great early and late snow," Perry says. When Intrawest merged with Whistler Mountain the occasion came with a promise to commit $30 million to ski resort improvements. "With this year's capital plans, we will have spent $45 million in two years, far exceeding our initial plans," Perry says.