Two million skier visits, and counting. For Hugh Smythe, one of the most remarkable aspects of Whistler-Blackcomb becoming the first North American ski area to top the two million mark is how well the resort has handled it. "I’m really impressed with the staff this year," said the president of Intrawest’s Resort Operations Group. "To be able to stay ‘up’ through such a long season... "They’ve been jazzed all season, and that’s had an impact on the guests." As someone who has been a part of the resort since 1966 when Whistler Mountain first opened, Smythe can put the winter of 1998-99 in perspective. From the point of view of skier visits, the marks on the graph are straight forward: o In Whistler Mountain’s first winter of operation there were 15,000 skier visits, about what Whistler and Blackcomb will now handle on a busy day. o In 1970 Whistler Mountain first topped 100,000 skier visits for the season. This past winter Whistler-Blackcomb had 10 weeks where there were more than 100,000 skier visits each week. o In 1980, the year the village and Blackcomb opened, the resort did 370,000 skier visits. o 1988 was the first year the resort had more than 1 million skier visits. o Two years ago Vail had 1.6 million skier visits, the closest any other North American resort has come to 2 million in one season. o On April 20, 1999 Whistler-Blackcomb became the first North American resort to top 2 million visits in a season. Predictions are that Whistler-Blackcomb will finish the year with 400,000 more skier visits than last year’s total of 1.85 million. Breckenridge, in Colorado, is expected to finish the season with the second highest skier visit total: 1.4 million. The reasons for Whistler’s popularity this season have been well documented: Whistler had lots of snow while Colorado and most other areas had poor snow years; the low Canadian dollar relative to the American dollar and British pound; and "momentum" that Whistler has gained over the past few years. Smythe says two other factors were new direct flights between Vancouver and Texas and the new beds that have been developed in the Pan Pacific, the Chateau Whistler’s expansion and other hotels and condos. "The beds are really the precursor to skier visits," Smythe said. Those new beds have helped with the destination market, which in turn has meant more skier visits mid-week than ever before. "The growth has been in the mid-week visits," said Smythe. And Whistler Mountain was busier, relative to Blackcomb, than it has been in years, which was part of Whistler-Blackcomb’s plan. "Our goal was to grow Whistler Mountain, that’s why we put in the Peak Chair and Franz’s Chair," said Smythe. "Whistler moved up two market share points, from 46 to 48. There’s more balance between the two mountains now." And Smythe doesn’t anticipate a big drop in the number of skier visits next season. But the energy of the staff is what stands out about this season in Smythe’s mind. "I remember 1970 on Whistler Mountain, it was a big snow year like this year. We did 100,000 people for the first time that season, but my memories are not of the numbers but of the snow and the shovelling. "For the staff this year to have to dig out their cars every morning, come to work and spend the day shovelling and then dig out their driveways when they get home again at night, that takes a toll. Their enthusiasm over a long season is remarkable."