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Snowstorms lead to early opening

Whistler businesses hoping for banner winter season

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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 and boarding.

“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.

Whistler-Blackcomb spokeswoman 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 said.

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.”

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