subsidized power for snow-making/snow jobs By Amy Fendley Whistler-Blackcomb will invest nearly $23 million to expand its snowmaking systems this summer following the province’s decision to provide the company with an additional nine megawatts of power. The investment will expand the ski season, resulting in a projected 300,000 additional skier visits over the next 10 years. Over the same period the equivalent of 140 full-time jobs will be created in ski hill operations, maintenance, administration and other services. Employment and Investment Minister Mike Farnworth, in Whistler Saturday to announce the project, said the additional power supplied to Whistler-Blackcomb is "excess" power available through the province’s Power For Jobs program, a three-year commitment to create new jobs and investment. "There’s a block of power available and its separate from the BC Hydro source of power, so the consumer is not subsidizing this," Farnworth said. "The ski industry is a vital economic generator for B.C. There’s tremendous potential and I encourage that potential. We’re making power available at attractive rates to companies such as Whistler-Blackcomb. B.C. ski areas have grown on average six per cent each year in the last 20 years, and our government wants to make sure that growth continues. Farnworth refused to disclose what rate Whistler-Blackcomb would pay for the power, but said that in exchange for the reduced rate, the company will invest $22.9 million to expand snowmaking capabilities. Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb, said the snowmaking initiatives are to begin this summer and will include: o the expansion of the snowmaking reservoir on the top of Whistler Mountain, increasing its current storage capacity of 20 million U.S. gallons to hold an additional 10 million gallons of runoff water o enhancement of the lower mountain’s snowmaking system, from the upper Olympic run, one of the main ski-outs on Whistler back down to Village o construction of a pumping station to pump water from Fitzsimmons Creek up both mountains Forseth would not disclose the power requirements for the pumping stations. However, he said Blackcomb’s 15 million gallon reservoir would not be expanded and the improvements will result in an additional 400 acres of skiable terrain. "The World Cup (downhill) course consumes a lot of snow early in the season," says Forseth. "It takes a lot of the water from the reserve and depletes it." Forseth said that although rate cuts helped them to expedite the snowmaking project, they would have eventually addressed the need for more snowmaking and would have implemented such a project. "This partnership will allow the resort to extend its ski season and provide dependable early ski season snow conditions for skiing, boarding and other winter recreation," said Farnworth. "It will also stimulate local tourism and job creation here in Whistler and help the resort maintain its position as the leading mountain resort in North America." Vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb, David Perry, says the enhanced snowmaking operations will result in a better ski season for next year. "We’ll be able to open the first day of the season earlier," said Perry. "It’ll be a better, longer season for the hard-core locals." Perry suggested it would be beneficial to keep the season open longer, and recounted last spring’s mid-April WestBeach Classic when snow had to be trucked down the mountain to supplement what was left on the lower slopes. "If we’re improving our resort, it’s an attractive, positive thing for Whistler," stated Perry. "What other resorts do is up to them. This is beneficial for us." Farnworth said that the economic council of ministers had identified the province’s ski industry as having high potential for further development. The council is looking at ways to stimulate the industry’s growth, including reducing costs, time and regulatory burdens faced by ski resort developers. "The potential in this province for the skiing industry is phenomenal," said Farnworth. "Not only here close to Vancouver, but in the Kootenays and the Interior, there’s been a lot of interest by ski resort companies in building more resorts here in B.C. because this is the great untapped market of North America and Whistler is the premier resort." Farnworth said that a number of projects are to be announced over the coming weeks in a variety of industries across the province, including the ski industry. "We’ve got a lot of resorts on the drawing board and its our job and our goal to see them get off the ground as quickly as possible. "The ski industry is a vital economic generator for B.C.," said Farnworth. "There’s tremendous potential and I encourage that potential."