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Talking weather

Bad winter, worse spring – how is Whistler holding up?



Talk to anyone in town for any length of time, and the topic of weather always comes up – not because we’re making small talk but because it’s been on our minds a lot lately.

Until the snow finally hit in March, following the driest spell in Whistler’s ski history, everyone was asking what happened to winter. Now, after three months of rain, clouds and cold, punctuated here and there by the odd sunny (or partly sunny) day, everyone is wondering what happened to spring and summer.

While it’s not unusual to have wet Aprils, Mays, Junes and Julys, the trend was just the opposite in 2003 and 2004, with the region experiencing record heat waves and droughts.

And while a little rain is normal at this time of year, this isn’t exactly a normal amount of cloud cover or precipitation we’re experiencing – the pendulum has swung from one extreme to another.

According to the July 3 Vancouver Sun, this June was the third bleakest on record for the city, with the fewest recorded hours of sunshine since 1971.

Vancouver saw about 152 hours of sun last month, far less than the average of 229 hours. By way of comparison, June of 2004 had 306 hours of sun, and June of 2003 saw about 272 hours.

While Whistler and Vancouver frequently have different weather and are subject to different systems, the overall trends have been similar for the entire south coast region – rain, low temperatures, clouds, and more rain.

What does that mean for businesses in Whistler, who in recent history have had to contend with the post-9/11 tourism market, a soft U.S. economy, road closures, village construction, rising rents, and one of the worst winters on record?

What does that mean for residents who depend on those businesses and the tourists for their livelihood, and depend on the sun for rest and relaxation?

There’s a saying that "everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." But in Whistler, that’s not exactly true. Whistler-Blackcomb has about 170 snow guns ready to go when winter storms won’t co-operate – one of the main reasons the winter of 2004-05 wasn’t a bigger economic disaster for the town. The accommodation, restaurant and retail sectors are also always ready to offer up deals to keep the tourists coming.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is seeing record numbers again, and glacier camps have benefited from additional snowfalls and a slower spring melt. The rain put a bit of a damper on glacier camps last week and the camps were rained out last Friday, but overall things are looking up.