Opinion » Alta States

Quality or quantity? WB's latest capital plan a questionable investment



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Marry this trend to the booming self-propelled movement and suddenly you have a whole new situation — a gaggle of mountain neophytes looking for fresh tracks.

Which has led to some predictable consequences. Powder days on Whistler/Blackcomb are busier now than Robson Street on a Saturday afternoon. There's no question anymore of "saving" your favourite stash for later. Everything is immediate. Ride it while you can, baby. It'll all be bumps by tomorrow...

But there's a darker side to this situation. People are literally killing themselves for powder. And inbounds at that. I know. I know. We're not supposed to talk about such incidents. But let's be real for a moment. The more Whistler is associated with fresh snow and epic powder days, the more people are going to come here looking for adventure.

And if all the obvious stuff is already tracked out, where do you think they're going to venture? Into more and more dangerous terrain of course. It goes without saying — it's human nature at its most transparent. Follow ze fraish treks...

That's why I'm still scratching my head at WB's new lift-building plans. Really? You want to stuff 50 per cent more people into Harmony Bowl? Dilute the mountain experience until it's so watered down that it has no meaning anymore? Create a rat-race ski domain where stress and crowding dominate? And I haven't even started on the Crystal zone yet... I mean, it's not because you can that you should. As I wrote earlier, 1986 is a long ways in the past.

Now please, don't get me wrong here. This ain't no WB bashing session. As far as on-mountain operations go, I think they're one of the best-managed outfits in the snowsport business. Grooming, snowmaking, mountain safety — nobody in North America does it better. Great staff. Good people. But vision? Not so much...

Consider their recently released capital plan: an $18 million project that will see a six-seater chairlift erected in Harmony while the supernumerary four-seater is transferred to the Crystal zone. It's almost like WB's senior management team is stuck on an unsustainable mantra: "bigger, faster, more people." It's almost like they don't understand that the terrain their lifts access is finite. I mean, it's not like they're opening any new areas to explore (Newsflash: the "new" Crystal zone was colonized long ago).

And people are going to notice the changes right away. Powder turns will be harder and harder to come by. More accidents will occur. Guests will get turned off by the crowds. They'll seek their powder epiphanies elsewhere. And slowly but surely, Whistler will lose its adventure-skiing cachet.

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