By Amy Fendley The Resort Municipality of Whistler has already spent more money on snow removal this year than it did all of last year. No surprise, considering that Jan. 24 was the last time the resort had no recordable snow. In fact, the winter of 1998-99 has provided the most snow Whistler has seen in the last 16 years. If the weather continues, the RMOW’s $450,000 snow removal budget may be surpassed by an additional $25,000 to $50,000. "Last year the snow melted and there was not much snow falling in the valley," said Steve Black, manager of transportation and drainage for the RMOW. "If we get rain in the valley for the next few months, it will melt the snow instead of us having to plow it. If it stays cold, it will continue to snow. But then again, if we have a big warm trend we can expect lots of melting followed by major flooding." The municipality has been fighting the snow with three all-wheel drive snowplows, two one-tonne trucks with plows, a backhoe, and two front-end loaders. But while the heavy snowfall this winter is causing the municipality financial pain, for Whistler’s private excavation and snow removal companies this season’s snowfall has been white gold. "It’s the busiest season we’ve had," said Lester Smears, operations manager for Whistler Excavations. "Our snow clearing budget is pretty much blown for this year. There wasn’t a big break between the summer construction season and the snow, which is good. The guys seem to be standing up alright." Nigel Woods of Coastal Mountain Excavations Ltd., the largest private snow removal contractor in the area, has had a similar experience this year. He says this winter has many of the characteristics of a typical ’70s winter: high snow banks, decks gone, houses hidden, and cars, gone for the winter. "It’s been huge, our guys worked for three weeks straight at one point, 10 and 12 hour days," exclaims Woods. "We’ve been trucking snow for weeks and have huge stock piles of the stuff in Day Skier Lot 4, on Westside Road and across the highway from Function Junction." Coastal Mountain Excavations has approximately 200 customers in the commercial sector, about 250 residential customers. The company services them with 18 pieces of snow removal equipment and 28 operators. It is their responsibility to remove the snow every time it falls and to try to find a place to put it when there is nowhere. Woods estimates the pile in Lot 4 is more than 100 feet high. "We could sell lift tickets," said Woods. "In Saskatchewan it would be a monster mountain. It’ll be there all summer. "Basically, it’s just been continual. It’s been a huge task for our operators, we have two full-time mechanics just to keep our gear running. The volume of work is more than double last year’s, the volume of snow is more than double, hence doubled expenses. I think a lot of the guys thought they were married to a John Deer loader — and it’s not over yet." If Whistler gets a cold spring and the snowpacks don’t melt till a warm spell in the summer, Woods said he could be busy with construction work, for a different reason, flood damage. "If the snow stays like a snowpack, there’ll be so much volume when it finally does melt. We may continue to be very, very busy." Woods says he is amazed at how many drivers are poorly equipped to drive in winter conditions and use poor judgement. "Proper winter tires make all the difference," he said. "Snow gets driven on once and it’s solid ice. I watched a guy standing back, proud as can be that he was prepared with chains on his tires. But he forgot and put the chains on the back tires, it was a front wheel drive and he immediately got stuck."