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new lifts

Whistler-Blackcomb has found more than two million reasons to accelerate its capital plan and add two new high-speed quad chairs to Whistler Mountain this summer. The new Doppelmayr lifts will nearly double Whistler Mountain’s capacity out of the village. The first chair, a bubble quad, will carry passengers from Skiers Plaza to the Olympic Station area. The second quad will go from Olympic Station to the top of the knoll now serviced by the Orange and Black Chairs. The Black Chair will be removed. David Perry, vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb, said there were no plans for major capital improvements to the mountains this summer, "but we had such a huge jump this past winter — more than two million skier visits already — we had to move up the plan. "We can’t sit back and do nothing." While the access chair out of the village will ease lineups at the Village Gondola, the second chair serving the Garbanzo Basin area — Tokum, Bear Paw, Seppo’s and Raven/Ptarmigan — is more exciting from a skiing and boarding perspective. "It’s classic Whistler Mountain terrain," Perry said. Six new gladed runs will be cut this summer, accessed from Bear Paw, Tokum, Raven and Ptarmigan. But from an operational point of view the new lifts will open up the mountain. From the top of the upper chair, there is skiable and rideable terrain in nearly every direction, including Franz’s, the Dave Murray Downhill and the Green Chair. All the terrain accessible from the upper chair is below the treeline and "stormproof." The above-treeline alpine areas can be difficult skiing during storms. The alpine terrain is also accessible from the new upper chair, via Franz’s Chair. The Garbanzo area chair — a contest will be held to name the two new lifts — will also be the "biggest" chair on either mountain, with a vertical rise of 2,200 feet. With a capacity of 2,600 skiers per hour for the lower chair and 2,800 per hour for the upper chair, the new lifts will bring Whistler-Blackcomb’s lift capacity to 59,000 skiers per hour. The new lifts are expected to swing the percentage of skiers on the two mountains in Whistler’s favour for the first time since the mid ’80s. When both Whistler and Blackcomb were operating this past winter Blackcomb captured about 52 per cent of the skier visits to Whistler’s 48 per cent. The previous year it was about 54-46 in Blackcomb’s favour. "We expect the 52-48 ratio could reverse next year," Perry said. "We expect it will be at least 50-50." Whistler Mountain has the terrain to handle more people, Perry added, and has considerably more developable terrain than Blackcomb. The lineups for the village gondola were the catalyst for putting in the lifts this summer — three years ahead of schedule, Perry explained. In the winter of 1997-98 there were about 12 days when lineups for the Village Gondola were "unacceptably long." This past winter there were more than 30 days with lineups of more than 12-15 minutes, Perry said. The new lifts will give Whistler Mountain three high-speed access points, the same as Blackcomb, and bring the two mountains’ high-speed lift total to 15 — more than any other single resort in the world. The base terminal for the village chair will be located near the Excalibur Gondola base terminal. The chair line will cross under the Whistler Village Gondola at the cliff band, about one-third of the way up to the Olympic Station. Trip time up the two chairs will be about 13 minutes. The two chairs will cost $12 million, bringing Whistler-Blackcomb’s capital plan this summer to $20 million. The other $8 million will be spent on routine maintenance and upgrading. Ground work for the new lifts will begin as soon as the snow melts.