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Taking the measure of the mountains

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Everyone talks about the weather, here’s what Whistler-Blackcomb is doing about it

If there is one thing that dominates life in Whistler, it's the weather.

Good moods prevail when there's fresh powder but people aren't so sunny when the rain is falling from peak to valley.

The weather here, particularly the bad weather, is a constant topic of conversation, of speculation, and of anticipation.

That's why a team of Whistler-Blackcomb staff dedicate their days to watching the clouds rolling in and out and over the mountains.

For Chris Strome, one of the voices behind the Whistler-Blackcomb Snow Phone, the day begins before 5 a.m. on the drive into the village, when he is checking the sky for clues about how the day's weather will unfold.

He knows he has about one hour until the first recorded weather information has to be taped and available on the Snow Phone. He needs to record a 6 a.m. update for people who are making the trip to Whistler that day.

"It takes two hours to drive from Vancouver so we want to make sure that they have enough information to call in sick to work that day," he said.

That first message is compiled after talking to groomers on Blackcomb and with the faxed information from groomers on Whistler, who measure the overnight snowfall around 4:30 a.m.

But with conditions forever changing, that recording is the first of four throughout the day.

"Between the morning and the afternoon the weather can change dramatically," said Strome.

By the 7:30 a.m. update, Strome has been given the official readings from the avalanche forecasters on Whistler Mountain, Jan Tindle and Anton Horvath.

They read the information on snow depth and new snowfall from a spot near Pig Alley on Whistler’s Emerald Express.

"There are some discrepancies between the 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. update. The base sometimes reads higher at 6 a.m. but there is always a lot of settlement after the new snow and it will keep going down," said Tindle.

Although the difference in the snow pack may only be 1-2 centimetres, Strome will update the recordings to reflect the new numbers.

"People feel we fudge the figures because it looks better," said Strome. "But there's no benefit for us to boost our numbers."

It is difficult to confirm an average weather condition on the mountains because the conditions can vary from Whistler to Blackcomb, and even from run to run.

This is why Strome always describes where the information is coming from on the Snow Phone – the peak, the valley, the Roundhouse. This way there is an actual elevation attached to the numbers.

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