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Vail Resorts investment a sign of competitive industry, says WB's Brownlie

Vail spending $50 million to link Park city and canyons this year

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When Park City and Canyons in Utah join to form one ski area at the beginning of next season, the result will be the largest ski resort in the U.S.

But the $50 million being poured into capital investments by Colorado-based Vail Resorts isn't a concern to Whistler Blackcomb (WB), just a sign of a competitive industry, said WB's president and CEO Dave Brownlie.

"Certainly it's a big investment and it will improve the guest experience in the wintertime... but it's a competitive industry," Brownlie said.

"It's not only Park City and Canyons. Other resorts are continuing to improve their experience (as well), and that's what Whistler as a resort and community has to look at as we go forward."

First announced in December 2014, Vail Resorts' plan to connect the two existing ski areas includes an eight-passenger, two-way gondola as well as upgrades to two other lifts, restaurants and snowmaking capabilities, among other improvements.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to transform the ski industry in the U.S.," said Margo Christiansen, senior manager of communications for Vail Resorts, in an email.

"Park City is a world-class town that is loved for its charm and uniqueness and we are excited to be able to build on that existing reputation to create an experience of a lifetime for our guests."

Investments like the one made by Vail Resorts are part of an ongoing quest to maximize the guest experience, Brownlie said.

"If you look at the last couple years, we've invested $30 million in the two new lifts with the Harmony and the Crystal, and then this past year in some technology things like the Whistler Village gondola cabins," he said.

"So we're always looking at opportunities to improve our experience."

Next up for WB is the planned renovation of the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb, which will come with a $5.4 million price tag.

The expansion will increase the Rendezvous' seating capacity by 8.5 per cent, with upgrades expected to be completed by the start of the 2015/16 ski season.

Beyond that there are no immediate announcements pending, though Brownlie said WB continues to plan and work towards the future.

"I think there's always going to be opportunities for improving as the guest experience evolves and changes," he said.

"You look at the grooming technology, you look at the snowmaking technology, avalanche control technology, there are a number of things that are always evolving.

"As a business, as the customer demands things, you have to look at those things and spend your money wisely."

And despite the big-money investment from Vail Resorts, the improvements lack an iconic attraction on the same scale as the Peak 2 Peak, and don't do much to improve summer operations, Brownlie said.

"I think it's a great investment for that ski area — linking the Canyons and Park City — but it's certainly focused on winter," he said.

"And it won't provide the dramatic vistas and, quite frankly, the access to different terrain that Whistler and Blackcomb do."

Staying competitive in the tourism and outdoor recreation industry — or any industry for that matter — doesn't happen by being complacent, Brownlie said, but so far Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb have been more than up to the challenge.

"The reality of the business, whether it is wintertime or summertime, is that it does change and it does require investment and competitive response," he said.

"And as a community I think we've done a great job of that, but it never ends. It doesn't stop. It's a revitalization that we always have to be looking at, and always be trying to figure out how we can do that as a community."

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