By Clare Ogilvie
Whistler Mountain will open this Saturday, a week ahead of schedule, thanks to heavy snowfalls in the last 10 days.
As much as 130 centimetres of snow could fall by the end of this weekend in the alpine, on top of an 84-centimetre base.
Jesse Melamed, 14, wants to be the
first person on the gondola when Whistler Mountain opens this week for skiing
“Me and my friends are going to go
there and stay overnight so we can be first up,” said Melamed, the youngest son
of Whistler’s Mayor, Ken Melamed.
He will be carrying on a family
tradition by camping out to secure a good spot for first tracks, since his
brother Dillon has done it for the last two years.
“Hopefully we won’t be too tired to
enjoy it,” quipped the teen.
This is the second year in a row
one of the local mountains has opened early thanks to wet weather systems
dumping snow. Last year Blackcomb Mountain had its earliest opening in 40 years
with first tracks starting Nov. 5.
Michelle Leroux said the powder is thigh deep in many places.
“It is nice and cold up there and
the snow is really light and I was sinking in up to my thighs, it felt
bottomless,” said Leroux.
“It doesn’t look like the early
season up there, it looks very wintry.”
Another storm front was expected to
move in overnight bringing more precipitation and wind. It was also expected to
bring warmer weather with Environment Canada forecasting the freezing level to
rise to 2,000 metres mid-week.
“There is potential for it to be
fairly wet but even if it is coming down as wet heavy snow that is good as it
sticks to the rocks,” said Leroux, adding that the freezing level is expected
to drop to surface again by the end of the week.
Despite the strong base Leroux said
people should understand it’s still early season conditions.
“People will not want to venture
beyond the ropes, but there will be sections people can hit that will be
ungroomed so you should be able to get some powder turns in by Saturday,” she
Whistler Mountain will open from
8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. with access on the Village Gondola and at Creekside to
limited groomed terrain. The Creekside lift will close Monday and re-open
Thursday next week for the rest of the season.
The snow falling fast and furious is also translating into fast and furious holiday bookings and ski shopping, making many in Whistler hopeful that this will be a boom season.
“The electricity in the village could light up this town, everybody has incredible expectations,” said Jeff Coombs one of the owners of two McCoos retail outlets which have been in operation since 1987.
“(This past weekend) we exceeded the sales we did at the same time last year and the mountain was open. People are hungry they want to get it on again.”
Coombs believes Whistler is definitely in recovery, after several years of challenges including poor weather, a strong Canadian dollar, and post 9/11 concern over international travel.
Les Pedersen, director of sales and marketing for the Westin Resort and Spa, said reservation lines were ringing off the hook.
“We had our biggest reservation weekend of the year,” he said.
“When the snow starts to fly the phones light up.”
The Westin, along with others in town, have also been marketing value packages regionally and internationally to draw visitors this year.
And Whistler-Blackcomb has been doing the same thing. The company has done over $22 million worth of upgrades including installing The Symphony Express with its 1,000 acres of new alpine ski terrain. It also lowered the price of youth and child passes and will extend the Edge Card deal until midnight Sunday.
“Yesterday we had a record single day for web traffic,” Stuart Rempel, vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb, said Wednesday.
“We had over 60,000 user sessions on our website yesterday. We also had a record day of on-line sales yesterday for Edge Cards, the biggest day ever by an order of magnitude.
“We are seeing incredible interest and I think Whistler has a momentum going forward that is very exciting and I think it is around the improvements, and around value.”
Tourism Whistler’s Arlene Schieven said they are projecting at least a three per cent increase in bookings this winter.
“We had a record day on Monday (for bookings) so that is a good indicator that things are looking good,” she said.
“To have recovery last winter, followed by our best summer ever, I think that is really helping produce a greater feeling of confidence.”