Whistler becomes El Niño-free zone Dump of snow opens mountains top to bottom By Chris Woodall Last week’s dump of snow came at the right moment, just as the peak Christmas season was due to go into high gear. "Both mountains have skiing to the valley and all lifts are open," says David Perry, Whistler/Blackcomb vice-president marketing and sales. "It's so important for the economy of this valley" to have the mountains fully open, Perry says. "Having this latest snowfall just before the Christmas holidays is the saving grace of the season." Skiers have had faith that the snow gods would come through. Back in August when season passes went on sale, Whistler/Blackcomb offered a money-back guarantee if pass buyers weren't convinced they'd get a full season of carving in. The "snow guarantee" expired Dec. 19, but to date no one has cashed in their pass, Perry says. "As of yesterday (Dec. 20), we haven't had any refunds," Perry says, but qualified that by saying the final tracking of that information hasn't been accounted for. There may also be some people who traded in their pass when they got a job with the mountains, because a pass comes with the job. One or two others have chickened out, but then recanted, buying their pass again, Perry says. The mountains did offer 50 per cent discounts on day tickets to tour operators for days right at the beginning of the ski season, but Perry says "those were a very minor number of tickets." The numbers of visitors is looking good, however. Visitors arriving here from out of the province are in larger numbers for this time of year than last year, Perry says, although the Vancouver-area skier has been holding back. "They traditionally wait until the conditions are to their liking," Perry says. But with a dusting of snow on Seattle's local mountains, and the white stuff appearing on North Vancouver peaks, skiers and riders will take the hint and head to Whistler, Perry says. "We have some of the best ski conditions in the world," Perry says. Colorado got snow early enough, but what they have is getting thin, Perry says. "Utah finally got some snow and Tahoe is so-so." In B.C., the Okanagan resorts and Sun Peaks have been open, but skiing is limited. Farther in-land, Red Mountain at Rossland just opened last weekend. Whistler/Blackcomb has been moving quickly to get the powder message to regional skiers, booking full-page, full-colour ads in Vancouver's two daily newspapers last weekend. The ad copy talks of the El Niño effect being reversed above 3,500-feet elevation, that everything is open on a 176+ cm base of snow in the alpine, and features Santa Claus rippin' it up on a snowboard. "El Niño? Ho, ho, ho!" the jolly old elf says in the ads.