With close to a metre of snow falling last week there was a lot of excitement for opening day this year, with a few high school students camping overnight to get first tracks and a line that snaked around the Longhorn and past Village Square by the time Whistler Village Gondola opened Saturday.
It was worth the wait, with waist-deep dry powder in places and some of the best opening day conditions in years.
The conditions allowed Whistler Mountain to open 12 days early, with limited terrain and three chairs running - Red, Emerald and Franz's.
With the snow base almost doubling in depth since the opening (185 cm at press time with 362 cm of snowfall so far this season) more terrain on Whistler is slated to open for this weekend.
Crews are at work preparing to open the Creekside Gondola and Garbanzo Chair this weekend, as well as additional terrain on Whistler Mountain. The high alpine will take longer to open with heavy snows and winds creating challenging conditions for crews doing avalanche control, marking hazards and posting signs.
Blackcomb will open as planned on Thursday, Nov. 26, following the Pass-a-mania challenge where a male and female contestant will each win a season's pass after enduring 15 challenges over 24 hours. More information is at www.whistlerblackcomb.com.
With more than a week remaining in the month of November, there is a chance that Whistler could see a record for snowfall in the month. The current November record is 416 cm, which means just 54 cm of snow will have to fall by Nov. 30. Forecasts are calling for at least that much by the end of the weekend.
"I've skied here for 15 years and I've never seen this much snow so early in a season," said Stephen Butt, communications coordinator and the voice for the Snow Phone. "We have already received one-third of our average annual snowfall for the entire season and it's only four days into the season, it's unbelievable."
Early bird pass prices are still available until Nov. 23.
Despite the lure of powder out of bounds, ski patrol is urging people to stay in bounds on groomed runs and to obey all signs - a new list is posted online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/mountain/safety/siganage/. Early season snowpacks can be dangerous with partially covered stumps, rocks and logs to watch out for, in addition to hazards like tree wells and creeks.
Heading into the backcountry is also dangerous right now with a high avalanche risk in the alpine, and a considerable or high risk at treeline. Gusting winds of 120 km/h and higher last week have knocked down trees in the sub-alpine, and natural avalanches have also been reported.
Whistler Blackcomb is not the only ski area to get an early start this season, although the resort will have close to a month on some of its competitors.
Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain, Sun Peaks and Big White also opened Saturday, Nov. 14. Lake Louise led the west with a Nov. 6 opening this year, while Powder King Resort near Dawson Creek opened on Nov. 7. Mt. Baker led coastal resorts opening on Friday, Nov. 13.
Mt. Seymour is set to open Friday, Nov. 20; Mt. Washington Alpine Resort and Silver Star are set to open Nov. 28; Fernie Alpine Resort, Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort are slated to open Dec. 5; and Panorama Mountain Resort will open Dec. 11.
Resorts in Colorado and California are also open early, with Mammoth getting the earliest start in mid-October. However, the base has shrunk since then, and Mammoth is now reporting a snow base of up to 60 cm. Aspen Snowmass has a base of 50 to 90 cm.
In Utah, Snowbird is still closed with less than 30 cm of snow falling to date, while Park City resorts have fared even worse. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will open on Nov. 28, 2009.